EPA plan seems like Mad Hatter’s Wonderland
by William Murchison    Sun, May 30, 2010, 12:50 PM

The dust-up between Texas and the federal government over pollution control is a piece – yes, a big one – of a big, big, big, big affray going on nationally, centered on who we want to be and what we’re willing to pay in pursuit of it.

 “The environment” is the stage, but the theater reveals grander sweeps of motivation and activity.

 As presently constituted, thanks to the election of 2008, the federal government seeks to rein in the more audacious instances of energy exploration and production, yet with no clear plan in mind for what comes next, economically speaking. Nor any plausible account of where all this takes us in constitutional terms. Texans — and Americans – are understandably edgy.

 Gov. Rick Perry’s castigation this week of the Environment Protection Agency for over-zealous policing of the state’s environmental policies is the antithesis to President Obama’s thesis that, for environmental protection purposes (and never mind countervailing arguments), we have to cut off new Arctic drilling until 2011 and stop permitting new deepwater wells for a while .

 Texas thinks, within the constraints of law and common sense, it’s doing a good job of making energy supplies more abundant and doesn’t need more help from Washington, D. C. The federal government, with the Gulf oil spill as backdrop, thinks there’s too much emphasis on supplies and not enough on the environment or public health. The federal answer – as purely political as it is anything – is more regulation.

 Warning: This difference of opinion (to give it the nicest name possible) is going to go on a long time. One imagines, nonetheless, the outcome, when it comes, won’t gratify the President’s most devout worshippers. The federal government is going to have to give in important ways or be made to by initiative of the sovereign voters.

 The EPA’s strident accusation against Texas and its regulatory regime are supposed to lead to a federal takeover of the process by which refineries and the like receive pollution permits. It probably won’t happen. Perry is on the side, not particularly of Big Bidness, but of economic growth and job creation. The state will fight in court and at the federal ballot box to keep from saddling the economy with job-killing regulations, even at the cost of a bit more (whatever that means) pollution than the EPA’s regional administrator, Al Armendariz, is disposed to put up with. Public trust in federal appraisals of needs and remedies isn’t at a high point in the year of the $13 trillion federal debt and the unfriendly takeover of health care policy.

 And of all the mouthing off by federal officials, up to the presidential level, about responsibility for the Gulf oil clean-up – Energy Secretary Ken Salazar’s “foot on their neck” remark and related instances of smoke-blowing.

 The President’s cut-off of new drilling activity, announced Thursday, has about it an Alice in Wonderland quality: We see it without being able to take it in. Offshore is where the oil is. When you bar the gate to drilling, you’re saying, tough, we’ll get it somewhere else. Maybe Iran.

 The anti-oil left isn’t bothered by the cavalier spirit of indifference to new supplies of a fuel they don’t approve of very much anyway. They like wind, sun, that sort of thing: the only troubles being cost and technology to provide adequate supplies of same.

 On energy, whether in Texas or offshore America, “progressives” really aren’t in the game. They’re willing to override the regulatory prerogatives of the nation’s only economically viable big state, without caring what more centralization connotes for the future, but they don’t have in mind (or at least haven’t revealed) persuasive alternatives to the use of “dirty” fuels as movers of machinery and suppliers of economic growth.

 It would seem rather a careless attitude: careless, that is, of Public Opinion, because the questions Perry is asking, and also the critics of Obama’s offshore crackdown, will figure large in this year’s election. The loss by the Democrats of one house or the other in Washington would not ipso facto lever the present regulator crop from power, but it would reset the tone of the discussion. Without – unfortunately – resolving anything for a minimum of two years and perhaps beyond.

 Who do we want to be? Reasonably prosperous citizens of an industrial society or captives to the regulations of dreamy types who know all the answers? What are we willing to pay in pursuit of our objectives? There’s the crucial point. The cleaner the air, the higher the costs, the fewer the jobs. The dirtier the ocean water, the greater the fear of “losing” environmental treasures. There’s an answer to be worked out, but hardly in the context of regulators and politicians issuing peremptory orders, snapping their fingers, running their mouths over the greed and rapaciousness of those who supply us goods we have requested, at prices we can afford.

 It’s going to be an interesting election, if you didn’t know that already.
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