Big climate mischief

[UPDATE 19/VI: The amendment was defeated (yay!) 29-30 (oy!).]

Voting is scheduled tomorrow starting at 11 EDT on amendments to the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill, of which the one you need to know about is # 019, the contribution of Jo Ann [corrected 18-VI-09] Emerson (R-MO):

None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act may be used to promulgate or carry out any regulation that includes a determination of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions calculated in part by inclusion of indirect emissions from land use changes.

This is a particularly vile attempt to protect the corn industry at the expense of the planet by short-circuiting the science Obama promised would guide his administration. I discussed the importance of land use change here; last week I was testifying at the public hearing on EPA’s rulemaking on the Renewable Fuel Standard, in which EPA admirably includes estimates of this effect for all fuels, as required by the explicit language of the Energy Independence and Security Act. I can’t be too clear or flatfooted about this: there is no respectable or responsible view that growing biofuel feedstock on land that could be used for food does not cause an indirect land use discharge of greenhouse gas, and corn ethanol is the biofuel with the largest indirect land use change effect. There is a strongly held view on the part of everyone making money from corn that if corn ethanol really is more global-warming-intensive than gasoline, the correct policy response is to pretend that it isn’t, and this amendment is the mechanism of that pretense.

Philosophically, the analysis of this issue is in a version of the old joke:

“If you ignore his front legs, how many legs does a dog have?”

“Four. Ignoring them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”

Practically, the consequences of enacting this toxic little item may be enormous. First, it trashes Obama’s promise to respect science and besmirches the reputation of the Congress along the same line. Again, this is not a close scientific call even though the size of the LUC effect for a given fuel is subject to debate, it’s a disagreement between people who will say anything for money and people who know what they’re talking about. Second, it pulls the rug out from under any credibility for the US in the climate treaty negotiations that will occur in Copenhagen in December. If we are willing to make stuff up and stifle the science with legislation like this, countries like India and China, and the Europeans, have no reason to get on board, especially after the last eight years of Bush administration denial and ignorantism and stasis on climate. It will be a catastrophe.

Now would be a good time to weigh in with the president, who absolutely needs to make a phone call, and with the following members of the subcommittee, especially if one is your rep or someone you know:

Chair: Norman D. Dicks (WA-d)

James P. Moran (VA-d)

Alan B. Mollohan (WV-d)

Ben Chandler (KY-d)

Maurice D. Hinchey (NY-d)

John W. Olver (MA-d)

Ed Pastor (AZ-d)

David E. Price (NC-d)

David R. Obey (WI-d), Ex Officio

Ranking Member: Michael K. Simpson (ID-r)

Ken Calvert (CA-r)

Steven C. LaTourette (OH-r)

Tom Cole (OK-r)

Jerry Lewis (CA-r), Ex Officio

Contact info here; unfortunately unless you go to their individual web pages, email is impractical; fax is probably best.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.