Political Hay

Republican Governors Who Wilt

Tim Pawlenty and Mark Sanford sign deals with enviro groups on how to confront global warming.

By 7.23.07

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford have largely conservative support (a few say they are moderates). Regardless, why have both signed deals with an environmental advocacy group to administer their respective states' programs to confront global warming?

The two Republican executives have followed the example of more liberal governors by inviting the nonprofit Center for Climate Strategies to advise their climate change action groups. The states' respective panels consist of dozens of "stakeholders" who will consider greenhouse gas-reducing measures. The groups will approve most of those action items, then pass them on to state lawmakers while environmentalists' hope that the recommendations turn into laws.

The stakeholder group consists of a governor-appointed collection of special interests. Businessmen are chosen to rubberstamp a series of mitigation options on carbon dioxide emissions, and they participate in order to limit the damage done to their own economic concerns. The rest of the panel is filled with global warming believers who want constraints on freedom like smart growth, higher fuel taxes, and diminished fossil fuel use. CCS, created by an advocacy group called the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, does all the panel's heavy lifting by: providing technical analysis; setting rules for voting and meetings; creating all the panel's records and posting them on the Web; and most importantly, supplying the list of CO2-reducing measures for consideration in the first place.

What could be easier for a poorly informed stakeholder? You don't have to produce any ideas about emissions reductions because CCS does it for you. You don't have to know anything about the CO2-cutting options because CCS tells you all you need to know. You don't have to write any reports or research anything -- CCS does it. You don't have to inform anybody about what you're doing -- whether it's the media, the public, or government officials -- because if those groups are even aware of you, they are more ignorant than you are. You don't even have to show up and vote, because the CCS rules don't require it. And when you do vote, you don't have to approve of an option and then explain later why you did something that cost energy consumers millions of dollars. Instead each option is already considered approved, because that's the way CCS arranges the process. You just need to know enough that if it smells bad, you can just say you don't like it, and CCS will either change it -- or if they really have to, eliminate it. But that rarely happens.

As for the governor who hires CCS, it's even easier. You get to pander to environmentalists while appeasing all the constituent parties who might object to government infringement on their energy usage. You make utility companies and pliable industry leaders part of the stakeholder group and then they can't come back and complain about the costly, burdensome regulations later. And for Republicans like Pawlenty and Sanford, they temporarily avoid the anti-environment, pro-industry label that the critical media usually reserves for the likes of them.

What's even better for governors is that they pay little for CCS to promote its environmentalism in their states. That's because CCS raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for its consultants from liberal eco-friendly foundations like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Ted Turner's Foundation. Pawlenty and Sanford got really good deals: Minnesota will pay CCS only $40,000 for its climate advisory group services, while South Carolina gets its help for free.

Too bad that with the great value that CCS provides for its clients, they don't provide any proof that their greenhouse gas reduction ideas do anything to improve climate. That's right -- there is no scientific analysis that shows their many proposals (like smart growth, electricity surcharges, and renewable fuels portfolios) will affect global warming, positive or negative -- even if every state in the nation, and every country in the world, adopted them. Nor is their any real measurement of the options' effect on a state's economy. The only value placed upon each considered measure is how much greenhouse gases are reduced -- as though you could accurately measure that.

You might think Pawlenty and Sanford are on board the global warming bandwagon because of political considerations, but they sound like true believers. Pawlenty said as he announced his climate change commission, "our global climate is warming, at least in part due to the energy sources we use. We cannot solve it by ourselves, but we need to lead and do our part. We also need to push for an effective national and international effort."

Meanwhile Sanford said he has been personally touched by global warming, as he explained in his executive order:

For the last twenty years of my life, I have seen the ever-so-gradual effects of rising ocean levels at our farm in Beaufort County. In some cases, it's been watching pine trees die in that fragile zone between uplands and salt marsh; in other cases it's meant finding roots in areas that would never grow a tree, given the current salt water levels. While I understand very clearly the debate on whether or not these events come as a result of man's activity -- or just the effects of nature taking its course - I've had other personal experiences that strongly suggest to me that man is having an impact on the environment. The last time I was in Beijing on a trade trip, we happened to be there on a bad smog day. When I went outside I could see no more than a quarter of a mile and my eyes watered.

Man is quite clearly having an impact in that part of the world, and while it's been my longtime belief as a conservative that I should exercise as many rights and freedoms as possible, those rights and freedoms end when they begin to infringe upon the rights of others.

In general conservatives earn their stripes by being able to set aside the experiential and anecdotal, and instead make decisions based on actual data and evidence. Pawlenty and Sanford have bought the "human cause is incontrovertible" side of the global warming debate despite legitimate scientific challenges to the prevailing wisdom.

Fine. But is it too much to ask that the chosen solution-provider prove that his plans will actually do anything about the alleged problem?

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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.