Thursday, July 9, 2009

More hand-waving on the energy bill

Jason Chaffitz tweeted our attention to an overlooked detail of the energy bill that just passed the House. The measure would give money to utility companies and non-profit tree planting organizations money to plant trees around homes, as a way to promote energy efficiency.

Chaffetz didn't explicitly state his disapproval, but he did link to an outraged condemnation of the provision:

What this means for Americans: Almost half a million people lost their jobs in June alone and Democrats want taxpayers to subsidize retail power providers and their tree planting programs. Runaway reckless spending is not going to get America back to work. Because of the Democrats’ national energy tax millions more jobs will be lost as American manufacturers relocate overseas, but at least homes and empty warehouses will have shade.

Which makes it sound as pointless as anything can be. Bill? Justify your existence!
(1) the utility sector is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States today, producing approximately one-third of the country’s emissions;

(2) heating and cooling homes accounts for nearly 60 percent of residential electricity usage in the United States;

(3) shade trees planted in strategic locations can reduce residential cooling costs by as much as 30 percent;

(4) shade trees have significant clean-air benefits associated with them;

(5) every 100 healthy large trees removes about 300 pounds of air pollution (including particulate matter and ozone) and about 15 tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year;

(6) tree cover on private property and on newly-developed land has declined since the 1970s, even while emissions from transportation and industry have been rising;

(7) in over a dozen test cities across the United States, increasing urban tree cover has generated between two and five dollars in savings for every dollar invested in such tree planting.

(H.R. 2454, American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, Sec. 205)

The bill takes no official position on whether Republicans are being slimy and dishonest in touting this tiny line item as a waste of money. But sources close to the bill -- speaking under conditions of anonymity -- report that the bill once asked Senator Inhofe (R-OK) if he wanted to "take it outside."

The Republicans won't argue this portion of the bill on its merits. I pointed out to Chaffetz that it was actually a very reasonable thing to spend money on, and he sent me a PM saying, "The taxpayers shouldn't be paying for it." That's consistent with Chaffetz' overall political philosophy, but that's not what he was implying to his followers. The message that came across wasn't just that it was a misuse of government power, but that the whole idea was patently stupid, and that the bill could just as well be ordering the creation of a giant ball of aluminum foil.

If you're going to point to something as a laughable waste of money, it generally helps if the thing being pointed at doesn't create jobs, increase property values, beautify neighborhoods, clean our air, and reduce energy bills.

This is such a common sense measure, I suspect that the Republicans are only drawing attention to it because they think they can spin it as "your hard-earned dollars spent on tree-hugging hippie crap." But trees aren't just fun to hug; trees -- especially the ones planted by this program -- are infrastructure, just like roads, houses, factories, and casinos. They serve human needs, and they do so in a way that will touch your heart and make that little brat look like a total user.

More important to the Republicans' political futures, people like trees. Coming out against trees is like coming out against puppies, ice cream, and "the troops." Outside of a small fringe who hate every sliver of the environmental movement, planting a tree is an act of hope for the future and generosity towards those who follow. When I see Republicans taking a stand against planting trees, I wonder at the smallness of their souls.

Given that their stance against green energy is already hurting them, I think the Republicans would do well to let this one drop. Thanks to @david_h_roberts for that last link.

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