St. Charles Herald-Guide

Where there is a will, there is a way

By Dan Juneau - November 2, 2009

What are the rules in Congress these days? It seems the playing field gets changed daily, depending on the leadership's ability to accomplish whatever it is it wants.

“Who needs a ‘bill' to read?” “Let’s just adopt a 'concept’.” “We’ll work out the details later.” “I’m committee chairman, and I'll get back to you with the specifics.”

The same thoughts are running through the Obama administration.  The debate on “cap and trade” legislation has slowed in recent weeks and taken a back seat to health care “reform.”  But, since “cap and trade” may also be in jeopardy of failing, the administration isn't idle in its efforts to limit greenhouse gases.

Now that the Waxman-Markey bill is in peril, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided that it will become the regulator not just of the environment, but of all sectors of the economy-electricity generation, transportation, industry and agriculture. 

In late September, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that she will use the 33-year-old Clean Air Act to now limit greenhouse gases.  In her speech to the Governors’ Global Climate Summit, she announced her newest effort, a way to force investment in new technology by regulating old technology out of business.

Administrator Jackson had already stated publicly that EPA had been prompted to determine if greenhouse gases posed a threat to the health of Americans, and-if so-to regulate them under the Clean Air Act. 

“We soon expect a final document that will lay the foundation for reducing greenhouse emissions and confronting climate change,” Jackson said.  Only weeks later, Jackson announced a new rule that, for the first time, requires “large sources” of greenhouse gases to report their emissions.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, there was much discussion about whether the EPA should use the Clean Air Act to deal with climate change.  Then-Senator Obama said that he believed legislative action was the preferred course to take.  Now-President Obama reverses course when Congress is unlikely to pass what he wants.

Does the end justify the means?  Administration and congressional leaders seem to think so, much to the chagrin of folks in Louisiana.  While our state's political and business leadership attempts to retain and attract investment and jobs, many dollars simply won't come to an energy-intensive state because of the looming legislation, and now negative EPA regulation.

Whatever is finally done in Washington will lower Louisiana's industrial output due to higher prices for energy, higher costs of complying with required emissions cuts, and greater competition from overseas manufacturers with lower energy costs.  When that happens, most energy prices will start climbing higher, particularly electricity and natural gas.

With less economic growth because of limited investment, higher costs, and fewer jobs, the state will likely see the gross state product decline by hundreds of millions of dollars during the next decade, and billions over the next 20 years.  And higher energy prices will ripple through every household, particularly those homes of low and fixed-income families.

The rest of the year and next will be tough for Louisiana congressmen and senators.  First, most are finding themselves excluded from the debate because of political partisanship.  Then, they suffer the negative impact from what is being passed and the harm it will have on their state.  And, finally, they have a lot of new “rules” to learn, because none of the old rules apply any more.