Obama’s own fringe group problem -- environmentalists
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.