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Why does Jay Rockefeller hate good investments?

December 27th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Let’s play word association.

Read the following phrase and what’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Rich family …

There are, of course, many possible from Hilton to Mellon to Rothschilds to … Yes, there are many that might come to mind.  For me, the ‘first to mind’ would be the Rockefellers.  Robber baron Rockefeller. When I think this name, savvy (even nasty) investing comes to mind.

With that in mind, it therefore shocks me that Senator Jay Rockefeller is taking a leadership position in opposing one of the most effective investments that the U.S. government has made over the past several decades: creation and enforcement of the Clean Air Act (CAA).

As Andy Stevenson’s discussion of the CAA opened earlier this year:

What if I were to tell you that we are all shareholders in an investment vehicle that has produced better returns than Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway over the past forty years. Strange as it seems it’s true. Stranger yet, that investment vehicle is called the Clean Air Act.

Enforcement of and compliance with the CAA cost some $500 billion between 1970 and 1990.  Sadly, in U.S. political culture, the discussion often ends there. That horrific $500 billion cost which, I promise you too many industry groups would assert without shame, so hobbled the U.S. economy.  Yes, hobbled it so much that the analyzed benefits from the cost totaled some $22.1 trillion dollars due to reduced health care costs, improved productivity, and other benefits that have accrued to us (the U.S. and all of us). And, of course, that fiscal number doesn’t even remotely begin to account for the avoided pain and suffering — emotional and physical — due to the reduced pollution.

As Andy put it:

While these investments in cleaner air, water and reduced death are indeed significant, they pale in comparison to the $22.1 trillion in benefits gained by its shareholders, the American people, over this time frame from lower mortality, fewer cases of chronic illness, and less frequent trips to the hospital.

Sadly, as a shareholder on Wall Street, my investments that have paid back 44+ times over the cost are rare and far between. (After all, like too many Americans, my 401(k) seemed to migrate to a 301(k) to a 201(k) over the past decade.)  And, well, the CAA’s payoff has even beaten Warren Buffett’s returns at Berkshire Hathaway.

Looking at the very strong — and essentially guaranteed — payoff from CAA regulatory efforts, it seems rather flabbergasting that a Rockefeller would want to be a leadership position to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce the law.  Prior to the Senate’s ending of its session, Senator Rockefeller sought to force a vote to suspend the EPA’s ability to move forward with climate-change related actions under the CAA for the next two years.  Presented, rather farcically, as somehow necessary to give the Congress breathing space to act with climate-mitigation related legislation,

The time has come for us to make a decision on the energy future of our country. I have spent this year fighting to make sure that Congress, not the EPA, determines how best to reduce greenhouse gases

Rockefeller’s efforts seemed to show how contributions to him from coal-industry and other fossil-foolish interests could gain a high return in legislative action rather than paying any attention to the very high value for America and the American people derived from thoughtful EPA regulation executing the Clean Air Act.

Rockefeller’s drive to undermine the EPA was — and is — at odds with the bests interests of America and nearly all Americans. It was — and is — at odds with the views of essentially all the relevant experts.  As Pete Altman noted in discussing Rockefeller’s efforts, in early December

a broad spectrum of 284 national and state medical, public health and other groups representing all 50 states, including the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American College of Preventive Medicine, urged Congress to “defend the Clean Air Act and to reject any measure that would block or delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing its job to protect all Americans from life-threatening air pollution.”

The groups made very clear what’s at stake, stating “Over the coming years the EPA will be fulfilling its duty to reduce the smog and soot pollution, air toxics, and global warming pollution that are the cause of these public health threats.  We urge you to fully support the EPA in fulfilling this responsibility.”

While Rockefeller failed to force through this anti-American action prior to the Senate’s departure for Christmas, that failure doesn’t derive from his realization of what a great investment CAA enforcement has been for the American people. No, instead, it came from his understanding that Republican colleagues wished to take the lead on this in the next Congress rather than allow a Democratic politician to have a leading role in undermining Americans’ health and prosperity.

“I have been reliably informed that long-time Republican proponents of my bill to suspend EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions have pulled their support for this year — so that they can gain some political advantage trying to take over this issue in 2011,”

Yes, one of those things to look forward to. Republicans seeking political gain through attacking measures that will undermine American security, health, and prosperity — with at least, it seems, one reliable Democratic Party vote to support this attack on a fantastic investment opportunity.

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Tags: clean emissions · climate change · climate delayers · Congress · environmental

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