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Context of 'March 25, 2009: House Republican: Carbon Dioxide Emissions ‘Plant Food’'

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A White House team drafts a memo to John Bridgeland, President Bush’s domestic policy adviser, arguing that Bush should renege on his campaign promise to impose limits on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide. The memo cites a December 2000 Energy Department analysis which said that implementing CO2 restrictions would undermine the economy. The memo suggests that Bush acknowledge rising global temperatures, but state that “any specific policy proposals or approaches aimed at addressing global warming must await further scientific inquiry.” Not a single person on the team is a scientist. The recommendation ignores a March 7 memo written by climate experts at the Environmental Protection Agency urging the president to keep his pledge. In their memo, the EPA scientists said the Energy Department analysis was flawed. It noted that the study “was based on assumptions that do not apply” and “inflates the costs of achieving carbon dioxide reductions.” The White House team that recommends breaking the campaign pledge is made up of Cesar Conda, an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; Andrew Lundquist, the White House energy policy director, who later becomes an energy lobbyist; Kyle E. McSlarrow, deputy secretary of energy and former chairman of Dan Quayle’s 2000 presidential campaign; Robert C. McNally Jr., an energy and economic analyst who later becomes an investment banker; Karen Knutson, a deputy on energy policy and former Republican Senate aide; and Marcus Peacock, an analyst on science and energy issues with the Office of Management and Budget. [New York Times, 10/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Cesar Conda, Karen Knutson, Andrew Lundquist, Kyle E. McSlarrow, Bush administration (43), Robert C. McNally Jr., Environmental Protection Agency, Marcus Peacock, John Bridgeland

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

In a letter to Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb), President Bush says that his administration will not support a mandatory reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. In doing so, Bush is backing away from his campaign promise to impose emissions caps for “four main pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide.” In his letter, Bush says that carbon dioxide is not classified as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act (in fact, it is [US Law Title 42 Chapter 85, Sections 7403(g)] ) and that a recent Department of Energy review had found a mandatory reduction in greenhouse gas emissions “would lead to an even more dramatic shift from coal to natural gas for electric power generation and significantly higher electricity prices compared to scenarios in which only sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides were reduced.… This is important new information that warrants a reevaluation, especially at a time of rising energy prices and a serious energy shortage.” [CNN, 3/14/2001; Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/14/2001; US President, 3/19/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Chuck Hagel

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

At least 19 Congressional Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), say that the Obama administration’s “cap-and-trade” proposal would cost American families $3,128 apiece in extra taxes.
Misrepresenting an MIT Study - Boehner, McConnell, and their fellow Republicans base their claim on a 2007 MIT study. However, one of the study’s researchers, John Reilly, says that the Republicans are misreading it. According to Reilly, any tax burden on American families would not be felt until 2015, and the cost would be closer to $31 per person and $79 per year. The controversial claim originates in a Web posting by the House Republican Conference on March 24, which says: “The administration raises revenue for nationalized health care through a series of new taxes, including a light switch tax that would cost every American household $3,128 a year. What effect will this have on Americans struggling to pay their mortgages?” The St. Petersburg Times explains that the GOP’s “light switch tax” is a reference to President Obama’s proposal to tax power companies for carbon dioxide emissions, and allow companies to trade emissions credits among themselves. The program is called cap-and-trade. Republicans say the power companies would pass the tax on to electricity consumers, thus creating what they call a “light switch tax”—a term the Times calls misleading in and of itself. According to the MIT study, such a program would raise around $366 billion per year; Republicans divide that figure by the 117 million households in the US and get $3,128 in additional costs. Reilly says the Republicans are “just wrong. It’s wrong in so many ways it’s hard to begin.”
Corrected by Study's Author - And, Reilly says, he told House Republicans so when they contacted him on March 20. “I had explained why the estimate they had was probably incorrect and what they should do to correct it, but I think this wrong number was already floating around by that time.” Republicans also claim that the Obama administration intends to use cap-and-trade money to pay for what they call “nationalized health care,” a claim refuted by details of the program released by Obama officials. (House Republicans later amend this claim to say that the program will pay for “increased spending.”) The Times notes that Boehner rebuffs a second attempt by Reilly to correct the claim that the program will cost American households over $3,000 per year.
Further Falsehoods - Instead, nine other Republicans and the neoconservative Weekly Standard begin echoing the claim, with the Standard claiming that their figures show an annual cost of over $3,900 and accusing Reilly of “low-balling the cost of cap-and-trade by using some fuzzy logic.” Reilly says the Standard “just completely twisted the whole thing.… It’s false.” Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) takes the claim even further, saying that the huge annual tax would be levied on “every living American.” Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) restates the cost to $4,500 per family, and fellow House colleague Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) raises the rate to $4,560. Fox News correspondent Jim Angle reports Gregg’s claim without refutation or examination; on a later Fox broadcast, Gregg says, “every time you turn on your light switch, you’re going to be paying a tax.”
Denouncing the Lies - Reilly has written to Boehner and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to denounce the GOP’s distortion of the MIT study. Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) accuses the Republicans of “using an intentional misrepresentation of the study,” and says: “One of the things I find most distressing is their repeated falsehood about somehow a $3,000 increase in taxes on the American people based on a research done by MIT. They talked about it four times again last night!… The fact is that in the budget we have an opportunity for people who want to be legislators not communicators to help us allocate how those benefits will be utilized.” [St. Petersburg Times, 3/30/2009; Think Progress, 4/1/2009; Think Progress, 4/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Judd Gregg, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Obama administration, John Reilly, Jim Angle, Cynthia Lummis, Earl Blumenauer, House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, House Republican Conference, John Boehner

Timeline Tags: Global Warming, Global Economic Crises

During a House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing, Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) argues against a so-called “cap-and-trade” system to limit carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Shimkus argues that the world’s ecology depends on carbon dioxide to survive: “It’s plant food.… So if we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere?… So all our good intentions could be for naught. In fact, we could be doing just the opposite of what the people who want to save the world are saying.” The National Wildlife Fund responds to Shimkus’s statement by noting that the world’s plant life has sufferred tremendous damage from the inordinate amount of carbon dioxide and other gases resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. Liberal analyst Matthew Yglesias writes: “The point about our CO2 emissions is that the rate at which fossil fuel use puts new carbon into the atmosphere greatly exceeds the rate at which plants remove it. The aim is not to eliminate the CO2 from the atmosphere but to stabilize the amount of CO2, which means curtailing emissions to a level much closer to the rate at which plants consume it.” [Think Progress, 3/27/2009]

Entity Tags: House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, National Wildlife Fund, Matthew Yglesias, John Shimkus

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

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