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Obama’s own fringe group problem -- environmentalists

DANIEL LOOKER 11/04/2010 @ 4:10pm Business Editor

Remember Terri Schiavo? The Florida woman with brain damage whose husband sought a court order to pull her feeding tube while her parents and family fought back?

Congress voted to make it a federal case (which the Supreme Court later refused to hear).  The House passed the law at 12:42 a.m. on March 21, 2005 and President George W. Bush signed it at 1:11 a.m.

I’ve unearthed this bizarre episode of political history, not to make light of it, since as a Catholic, I, too, believe in the sanctity of human life. But it’s an example of government overreach. At that time most Americans – 82% according to a CBS poll – thought the federal government should have stayed out of this tragic family dispute.

The next year, the Democrats won the House and the Senate. The war in Iraq and a sputtering economy had more to do with that year’s wave than anything, but the Republicans didn’t help themselves by appearing to pander to their conservative religious base.

For most of President Barack Obama’s first two years in office, I’ve thought that he has a similar problem with his own group on the fringe of mainstream public opinion - environmental activists.

Of course, it’s the anemic economy, the bitter health care battle, and a deficit that’s the monster in the closet that whipped up this year’s tide of red on the electoral maps. But in rural America, it didn’t help Democrats that cap and trade legislation and energy policy were influenced by enviros with an almost religious belief that commercial corn production is evil, unless it’s part of an organic crop rotation.

Cap and trade was moving through Congress just after a speculative spike in energy prices that helped double fertilizer costs from 2004 to 2008. The Democrats in the House and Senate who led the debate over cap and trade were from safe urban districts and may not have understood the angst that tinkering with fuel prices would bring to the heartland. By the time USDA trotted out its own economic analysis showing some gains for crop producers from carbon offsets and biofuel demand, the Administration had lost that debate. In January. a lobbyist fighting cap and trade was greeted as a hero at the American Farm Bureau Federation meeting in Seattle.

Under the Democrats, the environmentalists had a legislative success as bizarre as the Schiavo case, except that it was much lower profile. At the last minute, they quietly got a requirement slipped into the 2007 Energy Bill that the EPA consider international “indirect land use change” when it writes rules for the Renewable Fuel Standard mandating ethanol blending.

The premise behind indirect land use is plausible enough. When tropical rainforests are cleared and burned, huge amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere. Environmentalists believe that expansion requires more corn, and more land in crops all over the world. So they wanted to limit use of fuels they think will have a big carbon footprint. But the theory that growing more corn for ethanol translates into massive clearing of jungles and savanna hasn’t held up, in practice and in sophisticated computer modeling.

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cap and trade,health care, farm subsidies 11/06/2010 @ 10:24am Heaven help us if farmers should have to bear a little pain in pursuit of a better environment. Were we as panic stricken when crude oil prices were driven into the universe and $4 gas and diesel were consumed. No, that is the free market and there was no fear of farmers being priced out of business. Capitalists gouging us is Ok but we can't have government trying to alter human behavior even though they do it all the time with the tax code. Perhaps we should talk about the farm subsidy trough that most of us have had our nose in for decades. And single payer crop insurance that should give us a marxist status just as much as single payer health insurance. Yet not a peep. Just a normal expectation that our capitalist society ought to insure farmers financial success while ordinary citizens stumble and fail under the pressures of high health insurance costs. ANd then the tax code that allows farmers to write of a $250k or $500K machinery purchase in the tax year it is purchased. Nothing like getting instant depreciation for items that take a decade or more to depreciate. The point being is that I really don't think farmers have much to whine about. Government enducing higher fuel prices by cap and trade is an almost criminal act while those Arab states raise prices at will. Most of those folks are those hated muslims you know but they aren't hated as much as this president. S'plain it to me.

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