Climate Chavistas?

There are plenty of reasons to oppose the cap-and-trade legislation working its way through Congress, but the claim that  a “nasty bureaucratic provision” will require “President Obama to act like Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez” is not one of them.

The provision at issue — Section 707 in the bill approved by the Senate Environment Committee — reads as follows:

SEC. 707. PRESIDENTIAL RESPONSE AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Not later than July 1, 2015, and every 4 years thereafter—

(1) the President shall direct relevant Federal agencies to use existing statutory authority to take appropriate actions identified in the reports submitted under sections 705 and 706 and to address any shortfalls identified in such reports; and

(2) in the event that the National Academy of Sciences has concluded, in the most recent report submitted under section 706, that the United States will not achieve the necessary domestic greenhouse gas emission reductions, or that global actions will not maintain safe global average surface temperature and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration thresholds, the President shall submit to Congress a plan identifying domestic and international actions that will achieve necessary additional greenhouse gas reductions, including any recommendations for legislative action.

This provision would clearly require the federal government to step up its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and could well be triggered rather quickly if the bill is passed.  It’s also possible, as Senator David Vitter warns, that it could limit the award of carbon reduction offsets and permits under this and other regulatory programs.  (See also here.) But “strong man powers”?  Please.

The above provision grants no new powers to the federal government, let alone the President.  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  Rather, it directs the President to have agencies use “existing statutory authority” to ensure greater greenhouse gas emission reductions.  In other words, it requires the President to ensure that agencies are using all the tools Congress has already delegated to them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — tools that such agencies could use even if the section is not triggered — and demands the President “submit to Congress” a request for additional authorities the President believes are necessary to ensure greater emission reductions.  Moreover, insofar as this provision constrains the Executive Branch’s discretion over what emission-reduction measures it wants to take, it actually reduces executive authority.

That said, Section 707 could be worrisome to interest groups bullish about their ability to influence EPA implementation of a cap-and-trade regime, particularly those anticipating they will be able to take advantage of a flexible administrative approach to emission reduction offsets.  The farm lobby, for instance, pushed hard to shift responsibility for monitoring agricultural offsets from the EPA to the Agriculture Department, as they expect the Ag Department to be more favorable to their interests when evaluating offsets.  The EPA has been too ambivalent about the environmental benefits of ethanol and other biofuels for the farm lobby’s tastes.  Once triggered, Section 707 might tie Ag’s hands, insofar as it would require the Department to adopt a more restrictive approach to evaluating offsets.  This could leave the farm lobby quite disappointed.  So, while Section 707 may provide reasons for offset-seeking interests and other rent-seekers to take a second-look at bill, it’s hardly a stalking horse for climate Chavistas.