It is perhaps fitting that just a day after the Senate commenced debate on greenhouse gas cap-and-trade legislation, General Motors announced plans to close four factories that build trucks and SUVs. It may also offload its Hummer line, no doubt to the dismay of up-and-coming thugs everywhere. According to the New York Times, the cuts were bigger than industry watchers expected, and some 8,000 workers will be affected one way or another.
Of course, the two aren't strictly related -- oil prices are skyrocketing for a number of reasons, increased demand from China and India chief among them -- but they are complementary. Goldman Sachs posits $200-a-barrel oil within the next two years, and neither increased drilling in Alaska nor shale mining in Colorado is going to redirect that vector. Regardless of the consequences for the climate, the carbon-driven economy is simply unsustainable. It's not just car companies, either -- rising energy prices are making everything more expensive, from food to factory goods. Airlines, for instance, are getting hammered now, and as they cut flights to drive up fares, the cost of doing business in our national market is getting a little more expensive. The notion that we can take a spur-of-the-moment cross-continent jaunt for pleasure, a notion that is not even 20 years old, is now receding.
All of which is to say that we can worry about the cost of action, but we'd better be worried about the cost of inaction, too. Yet try telling that to a defiant majority of the minority on Capitol Hill. Some Republicans support the bill, which its backers (who include Republican John Warner) say would reduce the U.S.'s current emissions by 66 percent in 2050. But others in the GOP denounced it. "At a time when Americans are struggling to pay their bills, and when the price of gas seems to be rising higher and higher every day, the majority is showing itself to be laughably out of touch by moving to a bill that would raise the price of gas even higher," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky). Added Missouri's Christopher Bond, "The pain will be focused primarily on the coal-dependent, manufacturing, job-heavy Midwest, south and Great Plains."
"Any action has to provide real protections for the American economy and jobs, and we must protect the American families," said James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma. In fact, the measure has many such protections. Even so, "This bill is not going to become law," Bob Corker of Tennessee told the Times. "It has no chance, none."
The Senate voted 74 to 14 to bring the measure to the floor. The debate over the bill over might continue for up to two weeks and then, as Corker predicts, it'll probably go down in defeat. But before that happens, we'll have much more to say about the measure, because Congress is certain to take it, or something like it, up again next year, with a much more receptive president in office.