The dirtiest bus tour in America attacks cap and trade bill

While you were off on your summer staycation, a small group of sunny-faced politicos hit the road in a big blue tour bus, armed with clipboards and talking points developed by a former speechwriter for the late Kenneth Lay, the convicted former CEO of Enron. In the manner of insurance and health-industry lobbyists orchestrating faux-grassroots bus tours to fight healthcare reform, the blue tour bus is funded by the American Energy Alliance: the advocacy arm of the Institute for Energy Research.

The IER is a think tank founded by one of the most successful remaining free-market ideologues in the country, 16-year Enron veteran Robert L. Bradley, Jr. As reported by Brad Johnson in the Wonk Room, both the AEA and the IER are front groups for some of America's biggest environmental polluters -- big oil, big coal, big manufacturing, and big utilities -- which do not want a cap-and-trade bill to pass.
Like a spate of recent stunts -- the coal lobby's Factuality Tour, the American Petroleum Institute's Energy Citizens oil rallies, Americans for Prosperity's Hot Air Balloon Tour -- this blue bus, dubbed the American Energy Express, spent August driving through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and Virgina with the slogan "Stop the National Energy Tax, Save American Jobs" emblazoned on its side.

The bus tour is out to kill the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill, the first bill to propose carbon-dioxide limitations, which has passed both the House and the Senate. Using information based on a widely discredited Spanish study commissioned by IER, the AEA distributes a factsheet criticizing renewable-energy advocates' claims about green jobs.

The AEA recently made a big advertising buy in Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, timed to coincide with the bus tour, according to AEA communications director Patrick Creighton. But the ad campaign uses another recent discredited study, by the National Association of Manufacturers, to suggest that Waxman-Markey will eliminate jobs.

It all seems of a piece with other critics of the cap-and-trade bill, who have used similarly dubious research -- or, in the case of The Weekly Standard, a simple misrepresentation of others' work, as with its misuse of an MIT professor's study to impugn the Waxman-Markey bill and suggest, among other untruths, that the legislation will cost the average household more than $3,900 per year (more than ten times what the MIT study calculated).

Now the bus tour has, indirectly, a chance to enlist Dr. James Hansen, a climate scientist leading the effort to raise awareness about global warming, and Thomas Crocker, who invented the kind of cap-and-trade system in 1966 that is at the heart of Waxman-Markey.

Both Hansen and Crocker have, in effect, repudiated Waxman-Markey -- but not because they've stepped away from the need to reduce carbon emissions but because both believe a tax on emissions will work far better than cap-and-trade. In this head-spinning season of strange bedfellows, they've been joined by longtime global-warming denier Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil (XOM), who has also recently spoken out in favor of a straight carbon tax. Hansen's views on cap-and-trade begin in the video below at 8'26" mark:

Aside from wanting Waxman-Markey to fail, what do Hansen and IER's Bradley have in common? Almost nothing. They represent opposite ends of the spectrum on the government's role in America's economic and environmental health. Hansen thinks the government has an important role in answering what he calls the environmental emergency of global warming, and that putting a straight tax on manufacturers for carbon-dioxide emissions is the best, fastest and most equitable way of addressing this crisis.

Bradley, on the other hand, is a champion of deregulation who wants to keep government out of the markets. As director of Enron's public policy analysis, Bradley authored papers in association with the conservative Cato Institute think tank, with titles like Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not Green and New Horizons in Electric Power Deregulation. Five years after that paper was published, in large measure because of electricity deregulation, Enron traders famously gamed the partially deregulated California electricity markets in 2000 and 2001, sending waves of rolling blackouts throughout the state, bankrupting one of its largest utilities, and leading to the ouster of Gov. Gray Davis.

Bradley's paper didn't cause the crisis, but he seems to have missed the salient lesson of an event that spectacularly refuted deregulation for electricity markets. After Enron went bankrupt, Bradley turned to writing pamphlets and papers that befogged the overwhelming evidence that humans are warming the planet at an alarming rate. Bradley's firm relocated to Washington and joined the massive lobbying effort for the coal, natural gas and utilities interests to gut the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 of provisions that would have boosted the renewable energy industry. IER most recently lobbied on behalf of fossil-fuel interests to help kill Congress's attempt last year to pass cap-and-trade legislation, the Warner-Lieberman Energy Security Act.

The ideas Bradley espouses have been thoroughly discredited, but IER, his think tank, is busier than ever. But there are signs of trouble. ExxonMobil, which has contributed $307,000 to IER since 1998, dropped funding last year because the group, ExxonMobil said, was one "whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion about how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner" -- which may illustrate where IER sits on the fringes of right-wing think-tankery.

And the American Energy Alliance claims it has "no ties to any political party," although it's run by former GOP staffers. (Close partner IER's annual report fairly sings with a prominent endorsement from Rush Limbaugh: "The Institute for Energy Research is the equivalent of the Heritage Foundation. Great people." Bradley has alienated (and banned from his web discussion group) at least one libertarian free-marketer who complained that Bradley is not "promoting 'free markets' in energy, but ... protecting the interests of his fossil fuel funders."

Call it a preview of the upcoming Congressional session, when Waxman-Markey will likely get a good thrashing from both sides of the political-economic spectrum. But for now until the middle of September, a big blue bus and a group dedicated to promoting deregulation and the sort of free-market ideas that brought about a global financial crisis have targeted county fairs, ballgames, auto races, and tractor-pulls across the states hardest hit by the recession. These merry free-market pranksters seem to be betting that the people who live in those hard-pressed states will not appreciate the bitter irony in that.

Mark Svenvold, author of Big Weather: Chasing Tornadoes in the Heart of America, teaches at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey
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