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Policy: Environment & Energy

Democrats talk about climate, rake in billionaire bucks

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Opinion,Timothy P. Carney,Columnists,Senate,Democratic Party,Harry Reid,Nancy Pelosi,Energy and Environment,Tom Steyer

Democrats occupied the Senate floor all night Monday, talking about climate change. They didn't try to advance any legislation, and they didn't even try very hard to get media attention.

“The members know that serious climate change legislation stands no chance of passage in this divided Congress,” wrote the New York Times' climate-change reporter, Coral Davenport. Beyond that, Democrats know that action on climate legislation would help Republicans take the Senate in 2014.

So why occupy the Senate floor talking about the issue? In short: Faith, identity and cash.

The liberal climate cause is easier to understand if you think of it as a religion. Monday’s talkathon sounded at times like a religious revival. Senators spoke about the faithful who “believe in wind” and “believe in renewable” energy. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said climate for him is “a faith issue.”

One doctrine in the Church of Climate is sola fide. In the words of Reformation theology: Justification comes through faith alone. “Good works” are irrelevant.

During the George W. Bush Era, for instance, liberal enviros compared the U.S. unfavorably to Europe on climate matters. The U.S. was curbing greenhouse gas emissions better than Europe, but Europe had made the profession of faith: signing on to the feckless Kyoto climate-change treaty.

Similarly, Democrats don’t need to do anything about climate, as long as they profess their faith. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., uttered the creed on the Senate floor: “We believe in science.”

Identity politics also makes sense of empty phrases like “we believe in science.” The Left finds much of its self-worth in the notion that liberals “believe in science” more than conservative mouth-breathers do.

Democrats called Republicans “deniers” 28 times during the talkathon. Majority Leader Harry Reid framed his speech this way: “Despite overwhelming scientific evidence and overwhelming public opinion, climate change deniers still exist.”

There’s an ounce of truth to this attack: Some Republicans wrongly deny that carbon dioxide and similar gasses exert a net upward pressure on atmospheric temperature, and that this has affected the climate.

But liberals hurl the term “climate denier” at anyone who doubts the hyperbolic catastrophic predictions of Al Gore, posits that non-manmade factors (like the sun) may also drive climate change, or opposes Democrats policies — the same policies Democrats aren’t actually trying to pass.

Beyond exercises in faith and identity politics, the Democratic all-nighter should be understood as a very odd fundraiser. Most fundraisers feature one or two politicians speaking to dozens of donors. Monday night featured a dozen politicians speaking to one donor: Energy billionaire Tom Steyer.

Steyer, having made his riches partly in green energy and fossil fuels, has decided to spend his billions electing Democrats who will pass climate legislation. He says he’s divested from his energy holdings, signifying his intentions are sincere.

Steyer spent $8 million to help elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia last fall. “Steyer will inject millions into assorted races” in 2014, reports Joe Hagan in Men's Journal. Steyer has made it very clear what a politician needs to do to get his money: Make a big deal about climate change.

Days before the climate talkathon, Steyer hosted a fundraiser in San Francisco for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Steyer’s senator, Barbara Boxer, was the driving force on the talkathon.

Steyer plans to spend $100 million this election helping his climate allies, as my Washington Examiner colleague Byron York reported.

Perversely, Democrats deserve some credit for this fundraiser, precisely because they don’t plan to pass any legislation.

If you pass a bill to please a donor, that’s a corrupt abuse of power. If you instead talk a lot to please a donor, it’s just politics. And bilking billionaire donors is a standard Democratic play.

Former speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance, drew hundreds of thousands in donations out of San Francisco businessman Bill Hambrecht, who wanted a change to securities law. Instead they gave his proposal a committee hearing in the December 2010 lame-duck session after Democrats lost their majority.

Reid and other Democrats also milked formerly Republican billionaire T. Boone Pickens for millions in donations to their candidates and think tanks, but never passed the natural-gas subsidies he wanted. It's easy to also see billionaire George Soros as the dupe of Pelosi and Reid.

So here's how to understand Monday night's climate gabfest: Tom Steyer has lots of money. Democrats stayed up all night to get some.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.
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