The Environmental Spectator

Of Two Minds About Cap and Trade

Montana's governor was for the national energy tax before he was against it.

By 8.3.09

Send to Kindle

Is hyper-bipolar a word?

If so, it would aptly describe the global warming policy views of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who this year also has additional roles as chairman of both the Democratic Governors Association and the Western Governors Association.

Last month Schweitzer appeared on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, and shocked the host with his views on cap-and-trade energy rationing legislation that is moving through Congress:

Maher: …it’s an incentive to make clean energy.

Schweitzer: Maybe.

Maher (shocked): Maybe?!

Schweitzer: It also says to the biggest utilities in America, “We’re going to add a trillion dollars to your bottom line. We’re going to franchise you, and only you, to be the only producers of CO2.” I think it’s the wrong approach.

Maher: You do?!

Yes Bill, he does. Maybe. But he didn’t before. Probably.

Gov. Schweitzer still (we think) believes that, despite leveling (if not lowering) global temperatures since the late 1990s, that fossil fuel combustion to energize human wants and needs is dangerous. All those byproduct greenhouse gases overheat the earth and cause all sorts of trouble, you see.

Back in December 2005 Schweitzer created a blue-ribbon panel to recommend policy actions to reduce those nasty gases. The result was the Montana Climate Change Advisory Group, which delivered its recommendations to the governor in November of 2007. Schweitzer was so inspired that he joined six other state governors (and two Canadian provincial ministers) as members of the Western Climate Initiative, whose primary goal was to form a joint carbon emissions reduction agreement. His new partners welcomed him aboard: “We look forward to working with you and your representatives over the coming months as we move toward our August 2008 goal to design a regional cap-and-trade program.”

That move comported with earlier statements by Schweitzer, including testimony before the Senate Finance Committee in February 2007. “I'm just going to give you some suggestions…,” he said. “Develop a cap-and-trade system. We have states that are going it alone. Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and California announced yesterday. There will be other coalitions. We can't have a cap-and-trade system that is regional. We need a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide that is national.”

And shortly before joining WCI, in an article that explained many governors’ support for cap-and-trade legislation co-sponsored by Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman and Republican Sen. John Warner, Schweitzer told the New York Times, “Here's a novel concept for Congress. Do something. Anything. Move.'' The article also noted an Environmental Defense-sponsored television ad in support of the bill, in which Schweitzer appeared with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

Then shortly after the November election last year, Schweitzer (as vice chairman) co-signed a letter with Huntsman to President Obama, on behalf of the Western Governors Association. The pair urged immediate action to solve “our energy dilemma,” using code words for cap-and-trade: “[We] propose a mandatory national system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that makes maximum use of market-based mechanisms.”

But the next month Schweitzer jerked away from his embrace of cap-and-trade, in an interview with the Great Falls Tribune. “I'm not a proponent of a carbon cap-and-trade system,” he said. “I think that it tends to transfer a lot of wealth from consumers of electricity to utilities.”

This was only three months after WCI produced its design recommendations for a cap-and-trade agreement among its members, including Montana. The plan provided for emissions allowances, carbon offsets, and auctioning permits -- all vital elements for such a system. According to WCI’s website, the member governors announced they “have designed a pioneering stand-alone regional cap-and-trade program that will immediately begin to address climate change in the absence of broader national or international standards.”

In February this year Schweitzer and his WCI partners released their work plan for the next two years. “Over the past few months as we have seen the world economy falter, questions have been raised as to whether this is the right time to be moving forward with a cap-and-trade program,” they said. “We believe that it is important to move forward with the cap-and-trade program, while acknowledging the need for flexibility in the short term due to the current economic situation.”

And then last month the Montanan who promotes himself as moderate -- now chairman of WGA -- vigorously defended WGA’s oversight of WCI. The National Taxpayers Union had challenged Schweitzer and his gubernatorial colleagues to provide an accounting of its work and demonstrate that all WGA’s members approved participation in WCI, as its rules require.

Considering that Schweitzer has poured so much passion into Montana’s participation and development of a cap-and-trade program, why shouldn’t Maher (and the rest of us) be confused?

Meanwhile the Democrats still adhere to global warming as a signature issue, with cap-and-trade as their definitive means to solve the “problem.” With 18 incumbent governors facing potential re-election in 2010 (not to mention two this year), it might not be the best time for the flip-flopping Schweitzer to be out front of the their Governors Association as promoter and fundraiser.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.