Some naive people might have been convinced that the U.S. House voted to wreck the American economy by endorsing cap and trade because it was the only way to save the world. But even many environmentalists had given up on the bill approved last Friday. It is truly a monstrosity: it would cost consumers plenty, while doing little to reduce global temperatures.
But the legislation had something far more important for legislators and special interests alike. It was a pork-fest that wouldn’t quit.
As the most ambitious energy and climate-change legislation ever introduced in Congress made its way to a floor vote last Friday, it grew fat with compromises, carve-outs, concessions and out-and-out gifts intended to win the votes of wavering lawmakers and the support of powerful industries.
The deal making continued right up until the final minutes, with the bill’s co-author Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, doling out billions of dollars in promises on the House floor to secure the final votes needed for passage.
The bill was freighted with hundreds of pages of special-interest favors, even as environmentalists lamented that its greenhouse-gas reduction targets had been whittled down.
Some of the prizes were relatively small, like the $50 million hurricane research center for a freshman lawmaker from Florida.
Others were huge and threatened to undermine the environmental goals of the bill, like a series of compromises reached with rural and farm-state members that would funnel billions of dollars in payments to agriculture and forestry interests.
Automakers, steel companies, natural gas drillers, refiners, universities and real estate agents all got in on the fast-moving action.
The biggest concessions went to utilities, which wanted assurances that they could continue to operate and build coal – burning power plants without shouldering new costs. The utilities received not only tens of billions of dollars worth of free pollution permits, but also billions for work on technology to capture carbon-dioxide emissions from coal combustion to help meet future pollution targets.
That deal, negotiated by Representative Rick Boucher, a conservative Democrat from Virginia’s coal country, won the support of the Edison Electric Institute, the utility industry lobby, and lawmakers from regions dependent on coal for electricity.
Liberal Democrats got a piece, too. Representative Bobby Rush, Democrat of Illinois, withheld his support for the bill until a last-minute accord was struck to provide nearly $1 billion for energy-related jobs and job training for low-income workers and new subsidies for making public housing more energy-efficient.
Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican staunchly opposed to the bill, marveled at the deal-cutting on Friday.
“It is unprecedented,” Mr. Barton said, “but at least it’s transparent.”
This shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows Washington. Still, the degree of special interest dealing was extraordinary. Anyone want to imagine what a health care “reform” bill is likely to look like when legislators finish with it?