In a 30-minute small press gathering at the Baton Rouge office of U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking Republican Joe Barton (R-Texas) echoed sentiments expressed commonly by conservatives in Obama’s America – the nation is threatened by runaway deficit spending, bad legislation is causing immense problems in the economy and an abrupt shift to the right is coming in November.
But as one might suspect when a member of the Energy and Commerce committee speaks with Louisiana media, the subject of cap-and-trade legislation took center stage. And Barton wasn’t shy about his opinions on that issue.
“It should be dead,” Barton said of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, which narrowly passed in the House last year but has tepid support in the Senate. “Senator Graham is trying to help resurrect it in the other house, and I wish he wouldn’t be doing that. But I don’t think it matters. The bill wouldn’t pass in the House if the vote was today.”
Barton said he thought last week’s announcement that President Obama would support some offshore drilling might be an olive branch in an attempt to build support for Waxman-Markey, but he didn’t think it would matter much. “It’s just such a bad deal,” he said. Besides, “I’m happy he held a press conference on offshore drilling, but this administration has shown it’s reasonably good at holding press conferences to say the right things, only to have terrible follow-up at the cabinet level with processes that deliver on their statements.
“I want to see action like having MMS (the federal Minerals Management Service) change their protocols on exploration, expedite drilling and other such actions before I’m going to believe the president” on offshore drilling, said Barton.
Barton was asked what benefits Cap-and-Trade might have by David Jacobs of the Baton Rouge Business Report, with the specific reference being made to the fact that Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard had endorsed the proposal. Since Entergy has a large investment in nuclear power, as well as excess capacity in many of their markets, the scheme would likely positively affect the company’s bottom line in the short run.
That didn’t affect Barton’s opinion much, though he did allow that Leonard’s stance “disappoints me.”
“If you’re in a business where you’d make money under the new scheme, of course you’ll be for it. That doesn’t necessarily make for good public policy.”
Besides, Barton said, a cap-and-trade scheme would hurt a utility like Entergy in the long run because of the devastating effect it would have on industry, and manufacturing in particular.
“When manufacturing gets shut down, you’ll have less demand for energy,” he noted, and the shrinking demand associated with a bad economy eventually makes for a bleak outlook even for utility companies favored by Cap-And-Trade.
The Advocate’s Ted Griggs then asked about global warming, and seemed surprised to find that Barton disagreed with his premise that it was happening. “The question is, is it a problem? I think, in the case of carbon dioxide, it’s not. They’ve been trying to make the case CO2 is a problem for 20 years, and only in the most esoteric sense can they show any evidence it’s a danger to public health.”
Barton and Cassidy both noted the danger Waxman-Markey presents to the American economy. Barton said that when fully implemented, Waxman-Markey would force an 85 percent reduction in American carbon emissions, which would bring the country back to 1905 levels – and on a per-capita basis it would force levels commensurate with the 1865 economy. “I don’t think it’s possible for America to go back to that lifestyle,” Barton said. “If you implement the House bill, you de-industrialize America.”
Cassidy pointed out that “the bill does nothing to stop the offshoring of industry to other countries,” in particular Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean where American manufacturing jobs are already moving. Net carbon dioxide emissions wouldn’t likely be affected at all, and since CO2 circulates around the globe no local benefit would be forthcoming.
“Don’t bet the U.S. economy on this,” Barton said.
Later this spring Barton’s Energy and Commerce Committee will take up the issue of hydraulic fracturing, as the Congressman noted there were hearings on the ExxonMobil/XTO merger which covered the subject in some detail and a follow-up round is likely to be forthcoming.
“That’s no problem as far as I’m concerned,” Barton said. “I think industry and the states have an excellent case to make” for maintaining the status quo whereby state governments are the primary regulators of the practice.
Barton, who wrote the current law on “fracking,” warned that there would be an “absolute fight” in Congress if the Environmental Protection Agency were to get involved in regulating it. “I wish the EPA would spend more time to do things that actually help the environment,” he said. Barton pointed out that it’s a physical necessity to case an oil or natural gas well in steel and concrete just to generate the kind of pressure necessary to bring resource to the surface, and by doing so it becomes an impossibility for fracking to contaminate ground water – an assertion the EPA came to after a five-year study concluding in 2004. The scuttlebutt that another study might be in the works on the topic didn’t make Barton too happy.
“There are probably more fractured wells in my district (in metropolitan Dallas-Fort Worth, which is the center of the Barnett Shale play) than anywhere else in the country right now,” Barton said. “And I can tell you, if you want to shut down the natural gas industry in the Midwest and Northeast, where there is something like 500 trillion cubic feet of gas, there’s no better way to do it than to let the EPA pre-empt the states on regulation.”
Barton said current law will have to change for that to happen, and he doesn’t think it could pass.
“It’s not a fight the Democrats want,” he said. “But Henry Waxman’s district is Hollywood, and Ed Markey’s from suburban Boston, and there’s no drilling of any kind there. They just think energy kinda happens.”
Barton is optimistic that Republicans will make major gains in November’s mid-term elections, though he didn’t want to either predict the GOP would regain a majority in the House or Senate this fall. “It depends on hopw you define success,” he said. “If we re-take the House and make a major jump in the Senate, that would be success. But I don’t know what the minimum number is to say we succeeded.
“We’ve got to create a conservative coalition in Congress,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to impact the process – getting legislation passed and stopping bad law from moving forward.”