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February 27, 2009

Reality Bites
There's been some amount of disgruntlement regarding President Obama's proposed carbon cap-and-trade system. Dave Roberts really doesn't like the way the administration proposes to handle proceeds from the auction of emissions permits. Brad Plumer objects both to the "timid" emissions cuts baked into the plan as well as to the low estimate for the price of carbon under the proposed system. Meanwhile, Kevin Drum wonders why the revenue estimates are so low.

But Ezra explains it all to you: "this really seems a case where the administration is on the cutting edge of the political conversation, but the political conversation is lagging far behind the severity of the crisis."

Exactly. And the "political conversation" isn't just betwen Democrats and the GOP. Or between coastal Green State Dems and midwestern Brown State Dems. Remember that Obama first had to negotiate the split between climate czar Carol Browner's support for cap-and-trade with economics advisor Larry Summers' and OMB head Peter Orzsag's support for a carbon tax. I'm not surprised that the budget stayed light on details.

What's most important are the set of basic assumptions the administration uses (and assumption is the right term since it's effectively Congress that designs the plan): an economy-wide carbon market. Check. Auctioning 100% of the permits (instead of giving some away to polluters). Check. Rebates for taxpayers. Check. Funding for renewable energy and efficiency. Check. Capping and then reducing emissions to well below 1990 levels by 2050? Check.

The fact is, it's just not wise for the administration to get too deep in the weeds on this. Ezra Klein has observed regarding health care that "the skeletal health plan outlined in [Obama]'s budget has been built to fit the work Congress is already doing on health care reform." Now I don't think you can say that there is quite the same "congressional consensus" on cap-and-trade that there is on health reform.

But at least among House Democrats (and hopefully among Democratic Senators) there is an emerging consensus regarding the elements Obama has included. Will Midwestern Dem Senators balk? Maybe. But the rebate provisions and potential for billions in R&D dollars to flow to the Midwest's "Saudi Arabia of wind" will probably start to look pretty good. And if Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, follows through with her thought of using the budget reconciliation process for climate change legislation (which would avoid the threat of a filibuster) it may not even matter what Republicans think.

And personally I like the taxpayer rebate provisions - and I don't mind Obama's name for it: the "Making Work Pay" measure. I suspect that giving it an identity outside of its status as a "green" funding mechanism will accrue to its benefit. Meanwhile, as Dave Roberts explains, the provision will:
offset payroll taxes, [while] the credit itself is administered via the income tax. Those who pay payroll tax but no income tax will just receive an income tax credit -- a check. The payroll tax is the target but the income tax is the instrument.
The system "effectively raises one tax (an fossil energy tax) and lowers another. The idea is to get less of what you're taxing (fossil energy) and more of what you're taxing less (work)." If that sounds familiar, it's because Carol Browner's mentor, Al Gore, has been hawking this idea for a while now. He tied it to a carbon tax, but it works the same in a cap-and-trade system.

Finally, regarding the science: this one is tricky. Having just said goodbye to an administration that was barely willing to acknowledge global warming and spent a lot of time undercutting the research behind it, it may be too much to ask for Obama to incorporate the cutting-edge science in his budget. Yes, the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent report - the "Fourth Assessment" - released in 2007 and representing the benchmark for climate science, says that we need to get emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 (to which NASA agrees). And yes, those are steeper cuts that the budget includes. And yes, since the release of this report, warming has already outstripped the IPCC's estimates.

But the budget is a frame to hang numbers on. It shouldn't be confused with a legislative proposal. I don't think Congress will look at those numbers as the outer limit of what the President will support. If Obama had gotten too far out in front in his budget, he risked leaving the issue DOA.

So when all is said and done how much will the final cap-and-trade bill resemble Obama's blueprint? That's entirely up to Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey who are writing cap-and-trade legislation as we speak (which I suspect will become the "controlling" version, i.e. stricter than the Senate version, more likely to include all the necessary provisions and thus the version that the Senate will ultimately have to vote on). With the sausage-making just getting underway, let's not start the hand-wringing, too.

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Blogger BeyondGreen said...

There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources.Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.The high cost of fuel this past year seriously damaged our economy and society. The cost of fuel effects every facet of consumer goods from production to shipping costs. After a brief reprieve gas is inching back up.OPEC will continue to cut production until they achieve their desired 80-100. per barrel.If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV's instead had plug-in electric drive trainsthe amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota.There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now.

Blogger Zinc said...

Irrespective of Browner's inside knowledge of the President's policies, it is clear that Carol Browner is still directly in the chain of command between the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency she left in disgrace. Browner's presence can only send a chilling message throughout the Agency that the master is back in command. Carol Browner's history of discrimination and retaliation at EPA is well documented.

In 2000, a jury found that the EPA, under then-administrator Carol Browner, was guilty of race, sex, and color-based discrimination, and that Ms. Browner tolerated a hostile work environment. During subsequent oversight hearings of the Congressional Science Committee, the Chairman instructed Browner to clean up the working conditions at EPA so the next administrator wouldn't get handed "a garbage can."

Despite promising to do so under oath, Ms. Browner never accepted the jury's findings as EPA Administrator. She never disciplined any of the senior managers under her supervision at EPA who were implicated in Coleman-Adebayo v. Carol Browner. She never stopped the appeal process in the case. It was her successor, Christine Todd Whitman, in her 1st act as EPA Administrator, who announced that the verdict in Coleman-Adebayo would not be appealed, and that the Agency would accept the jury's findings.

Congress was so outraged by the conditions within EPA, that it passed unanimously in both houses the NoFEAR Act (Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation) 2001 and mandated that all Federal new hires be instructed in Coleman-Adebayo v Browner within 90 days, and that all Federal workers receive the instruction every 2 years.

Apparently, being found guilty of discrimination by a jury of her peers, having Congress enact legislation to outlaw her administrative behavior, and mandate that all Federal workers be instructed in Coleman-Adebayo v Browner was not enough to derail Ms.Browner's career, or to prevent the retaliation against Dr. Coleman-Adebayo from the EPA that continues to this day.

These are not "allegations," they are matters of public record.

The core of the case in Coleman-Adebayo v Carol Browner was Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. President Obama is a civil rights attorney. The question of justice in this matter has not been adequately addressed, with Ms. Browner's ascension back into the heights of power, while Dr. Coleman-Adebayo, who stood up for civil rights for all Federal employees was thrown under the bus where Rosa Parks, a generation before her, took her stand.

The media need to start asking the President, Ms. Browner, and new EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, what the public is to make of this regrettable case of a courageous whistleblower, Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, being vilified, while her tormentors, Carol M. Browner -- and the staff Browner left behind at EPA -- are still retaliating, still discriminating against whistleblowers (who may be able to prevent poisonous peanuts from killing people), and still thriving within the EPA.

Blogger tlaskawy said...

I looked into this story a bit. Turns out she was originally hired (and discriminated against) during the first Bush admin and her bad treatment continued through Bush II. The Clinton EPA didn't distinguish itself on this issue - but putting this all at Browner's feet seems wrong, though discrimination in any form is not to be tolerated. I also noticed a lot of similar comments on other blogs that have mentioned Browner. Are you part of a campaign? I also noticed that your blogger id isn't public. I doubt you'll read this anyway - you likely search for Browner mentions and then put in this comment.

Also, the EPA doesn't regulate food - that's the FDA and the USDA. Just sayin'.

Blogger Zinc said...

I'm a one person campaign, I guess.

That the discrimination and retaliation is inter-administrational is another part of the problem. There have actually been 4 EPA administrators involved in the Coleman-Adebayo v. Browner issue, if we include Lisa Jackson (a Browner-approved nominee: Browner, last week was using the White House as a backdrop for her statements about EPA policy). Christine Todd Whitman being the only one who tried to do the right thing by Dr. Coleman-Adebayo.

The kind of tactics that have been applied against Coleman-Adebayo are in no way limited to the EPA. Look at what happens to any whistleblower, whether it's blowing in no-bid contracts, reporting that Americans are torturing people, that the government is wiretapping all of us without court or constitutionally approved authority -- it doesn't matter -- blowing the whistle is the kiss of death on any federal employee's career. That's why it's important that NoFEAR II gets passed. A recent GAO report found that the original NoFEAR law was ineffective in both protecting whistleblowers and in holding their superiors accountable.

As to Browner's accountability, the jury found the Agency guilty of discrimination and that Browner tolerated a hostile work environment. Unlike most filings against an agency where the administrator is named the defendant whether or not the administrator could tell the difference between the plaintiff and a can of paint, in the case of Coleman-Adebayo v Browner, the two worked closely on the World Summit on Women in Beijing for over a year. When Coleman-Adebayo appealed directly to the administrator to intervene on her behalf, before any official complaints were filed, her pleas fell on deaf ears.

It is not accurate to say that the EPA does not oversee food: toxins, as we have seen in the peanut supply, and what is applied to toxins in the form of chemicals to control them, are under the supervision of EPA, so there is some overlap between it and the FDA

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zinc:

Christine Todd Whitman's FIRST act as EPA Administrator was to announce that EPA would not appeal jury verdict in Dr. Coleman Adebayo's case? Oh come on. But I'll forgive you a little bit of hyperbole. What I can't forgive are the other inaccuracies.

Look at the public record. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo has sued every single manager she worked for over the course of her almost 20 years at EPA. That is not hyperbole -- every single person, including men and women, including whites, blacks and Latinos. Could it be that she is the unluckiest person in the world or that EPA is filled through and through with racist and sexist managers? Come on. That is just not the case. There have been at least two comprehensive evaluations by independent organizations into Dr. Coleman-Adebayo's charges. Both of them refuted the charges. The law firm of Covington and Burling, for example, found that EPA was one of the best organizations it had ever evaluated, public or private, when it came to issues of fairness, diversity, and advancement issues.

Yes, Dr. Coleman-Adebayo did win the jury case. That means 12 or 18 or however many members there were on the jury found that on the basis of the testimony they heard over a week long period that there was a more likely than not chance that the allegations were true. But look at the transcript from the trial. The government's case was abysmal. Look at the man Dr. Coleman Adebayo herself has claimed was key to her victory: Jon Grand. Jon Grand was subsequently convicted and served time for stealing over $100,000 from the government. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo has claimed that his prosecution was done in retaliation for his testimony at her trial. You think? You think the Justice Department and EPA are in on this grand conspiracy against Dr. Coleman-Adebayo? And if there is this grand conspiracy, it must include the two law firms who conducted the investigations. It must include every judge who had denied every single one of Dr. Coleman-Adebayo's subsequent lawsuits.

Dr. Coleman-Adebayo worked for almost 20 years at EPA collecting a salary of over $100,000 a year while she pursued her lawsuits against EPA. She has stained the reputations of Carol Browner and countless other dedicated public servants. More importantly, she has stained the reputation of a federal agency I greatly admire, one that did wonders for me and other people of color in terms of career advancement and job satisfaction.

She did this because she is, according to the doctor who her own lawyers called to testify at her trial, an egomaniac and narcissist. She did this because people like Congressman Sensenbrenner had their own axes to grind against EPA and found Dr. Coleman-Adebayo a helpful tool with which to club the Agency. She did this because members of the press were too hurried with their deadlines to go beyond the press materials put out by the Dr. Coleman-Adebayo machine, a bunch of well-meaning people who didn't have the facts. And she did this because all of us are too eager to believe what she told us, despite the fact that almost all of it flew in the face of facts on the public record and the multiple inconsistencies in Dr. Coleman-Adebayo's own statements.

Shame on you for perpetuating these myths. Shame on all of us.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goodness. I looked over the comment I just posted and was surprised by its stridency. Sorry about that.

But I want to thank Beyond Green for actually "looking into" the matter before posting. Yes, Dr. Coleman-Adebayo's claims spanned not two administrators but multiple administrators. Again, she had grievances against EVERY Administrator.

Christine Todd Whitman's decision not to appeal the case was not because she didn't think there was merit to the appeal. It was because, like Gerald Ford with President Nixon, she wanted to put the whole mess behind the Agency.

I'm no fan of Carol Browner. Personally, as so well captured in a scathing Rolling Stone artile about her, I found her to be prickly, abrasive and self-absorbed. She liked to see herself as a woman of the people. But it was get out of my way, little person, if she was on her way to a meeting. But the record will show that she did more for diversity while she was at EPA than any EPA Administrator before or since.

By contrast, though a Democrat, I loved Christine Todd Whitman. Whitman had everything that Browner lacked in terms of class and style. At the same time, I don't know if anyone has ever evaluated her record during her time at the Agency, but I can't imagine it was all that great. I know, for example, that she was abysmal in her treatment of the gay community at EPA.

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