Mary Kate Cary

Most Americans would rather remove the national security threat that foreign oil poses than impose expensive government mandates to fight global warming

Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut unveiled "The American Power Act," the Senate companion to a House bill called "The American Clean Energy and Security Act." The bill proposes to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 80 percent by 2050, in an effort to reduce "global warming." That's a tall order, and no one knows if it will actually work. As time goes on, there are more and more voters out there like me: folks who aren't convinced that global warming is something about which our government can--or should--do anything.

Most of us agree that government can have a positive role in cutting energy consumption, ensuring clean air and water, and reducing many kinds of pollution. But stopping global climate change on Earth? The jury's still out on that one.

Last month, a Rasmussen poll showed more than 40 percent of voters say global warming is not serious, which is a new high. Nearly one in two say global warming is caused by "long-term planetary trends," and only a third blame human activity. Here's the most interesting part: A majority "continue to believe their president has different views than they do; 55 percent say President Obama believes global warming is caused by human activity, and only 15 percent think he blames long-term planetary trends." To me, it's a bit of a conceit to think that the U.S. government can change the climate or reverse global warming across the entire planet, especially in the face of growing Chinese carbon dioxide emissions. To Obama, it's not.

For skeptics like me, the energy issue is not about climate change or global warming. It's about national security and the economic opportunity that alternative energy presents for American workers. According to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, taken after the Gulf of Mexico oil leak began, almost two-thirds of Americans are worried enough about our dependence on foreign oil and American jobs to continue to support offshore drilling. More than half agreed that the economic benefits of drilling outweigh the potential environmental harm. In fact, residents of Gulf states were even more likely to support additional rigs. (Sounds like those "Spill, Baby, Spill!" jokes only lasted a few days.)

The Kerry-Lieberman bill is a hodgepodge of bipartisan compromise. It includes incentives for offshore oil drilling, written in before the Gulf leak, as well as looser environmental safeguards to expedite the construction of nuclear power plants. Both provisions are controversial with liberals but have been GOP favorites for years, and they were put in the bill by Kerry, a Democrat, and Lieberman, an independent, to attract Republican support. To sweeten the pot for liberals, the legislation also includes a "cap and allowance" system aimed at drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions, despite the fact that it will cost each American household up to an extra $3,000 a year in higher energy costs, according to the Treasury Department.

Even though a broad coalition of business groups, the energy industry, and major environmental lobbies support the bill, the conventional wisdom in Washington is that the bill is doomed. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, who was heavily involved in crafting the bill before bowing out because of what he called excessive partisanship on immigration reform, said last week that he didn't think the bill could garner the 60 votes it needs on the Senate floor. He cited the oil leak in the Gulf, along with the uncertainty of immigration politics, as the top reasons for its demise.

Let me add to Graham's list of reasons this week's primaries and the anti-incumbent anger we're seeing across the country. It's no secret that massive government interventions are not going over well with voters. Coming on the heels of the stimulus package, the healthcare reform law, and federal auto and banking bailouts, a sprawling federal mandate to fight climate change while drastically raising costs on working families is not going to win elections.

As recently as the summer of 2008, Americans changed their energy consumption without any government action. The price of gasoline rose above $4 a gallon and driving declined, mass transit ridership was up, SUV sales went through the floor, and suddenly hybrids were the car of choice. General Motors announced it was closing truck and SUV plants, and fuel efficiency standards for new cars were being met ahead of schedule.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote at the time: "You want more fuel efficient cars? Don't regulate. Don't mandate. Don't scold. Don't appeal to the better angels of our nature. Do one thing: Hike the cost of gas until you find the price point. Unfortunately, instead of hiking the price ourselves by means of a gasoline tax that could be instantly refunded to the American people in the form of lower payroll taxes, we let the Saudis, Venezuelans, Russians, and Iranians do the taxing for us--and pocket the money that the tax would have recycled back to the American worker."

I'm not a fan of any new tax, but this one's not crazy. I'd much rather give the money back to American taxpayers than to foreign governments. But gas tax or not, given the choice, most Americans would rather remove the national security threat that foreign oil poses than impose expensive government mandates to fight global warming. And as congressional incumbents nationwide are discovering, most Americans increasingly believe the federal government should be the last, not the first, solution to the challenges we face.