EPA and Coal: No Longer the ‘Bad Guys’ in Presidential Contest
Candidates to Seek Center and Soften Tone
With the presidential campaign headed down the final stretch, it is expected that the two main candidates will slow up. What? While their slugfest will remain in high gear, their highly toxic rhetoric will begin to ease as they seek to woo the independent and moderate voters.
It will be a softer message aimed at both coal and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been the punching bag for the right and the go-to guy for the left that has unable to get its agenda through Congress. Each side has riled up its base as much as can be expected. Now, it’s time to go after the center -- the place where the election will actually get decided.
As such, President Obama is playing up his “clean coal” agenda while Governor Romney is discussing a slow-down in regulations to stimulate economic growth. The question among onlookers is whether the former Massachusetts governor would balance the needs of businesses with the desire for a healthy environment or whether his responses to all such issues would be dogmatic and automatic.
Both candidates, for instance, are trying to win the battleground states of Colorado, Ohio and Virginia. All, notably, have a significant coal mining presence. It’s why the president has toned down his talk of the harmful effects of older coal-fired electric generation and turned instead to discussing his administration’s funding of advanced coal technologies that include carbon capture and burial.
Advertisements, meantime, have pounded Romney over his flip-flops, pointing out his one-time support of carbon caps and calling coal plants “killers.” He has responded with his own attacks, noting Vice President Biden’s comments in 2007 that more people die from dirty coal units than from terrorist attacks, although this is not something from which the vice president is running. But would Romney take a more judicious approach to executing laws if elected?
“I’d hope he’d go back to the way he was as governor of Massachusetts,” says Christine Todd Whitman, administrator of the EPA under George Bush II, in an interview with Politico. “Because in that position, he was finding the balance that can be struck between environmental protection and economic growth because it’s not a zero-sum game.”
Romney can play to the Republican base all he wants. But the reality is that, if elected, he would have to groom members of Congress. He can’t wave a magic wand and pass legislation or roll back the regulatory clock. It’s a grand exercise in compromise -- unless he would prefer to make political points and go home with nothing to show.
House Republicans, for example, are using descriptive terms when they refer to the EPA, calling it a “job-killing” machine. But despite all of their efforts to reverse key regs such as those on greenhouse gases and mercury, they have failed. And with each occurrence, they are losing negotiating power, along with those industries that are helping to bankroll the efforts.
When a federal agency issues a new regulation, it is because Congress has given it such authorization. If Romney chooses, he could continue to engage in a highly partisan war of words. But if he wants to lead and to mold public policy, he should instead enjoin the protagonists. While both sides may squirm, they would ultimately shake hands.
Consider a report issued by the Senate Democrats: It gives an historical account of how environmental regulations have enjoyed bipartisan support. It notes that the impartial Office of Management Budget reviewed 10 major EPA rules and it concluded that the benefits of those regulations have outweighed the costs by a factor of 7.
More importantly, the free market winds are blowing much stronger than the regulatory gales. Simply, natural gas is the best fuel option for utilities right now. And if competing energy sources want a greater share of that business, they need to improve their processes -- not try to vilify other technologies or reverse 40 years of environmental progress. That includes both coal and green energy.
The candidates must stay true to those who granted them their respective nominations. But they must also try to unite a deeply wounded nation. November’s winner must be a statesman, necessitating that both Obama and Romney broaden their appeal and start changing their political tactics.
EnergyBiz Insider has been awarded the Gold for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been named one of the Top Economics Journalists by Wall Street Economists.