Guest Post by Christopher Horner, CEI
In November, I and CEI sued the Department of the Treasury to produce emails and other records mentioning “carbon”. See Joint_Scheduling_Agreement PDF
I sought emails and other documents from two offices: Environment and Energy (really), and Legislative Affairs. This action after the administration first ignored us, which they followed with an unfortunate stumble, trying to delay us with fees — even absurd and surely anti-‘green’ ones, like $1,800 to photocopy electronic mail, typically copied on a disc for no charge — which fees, even when they’re not mindlessly trumped up like that one, not-for-profit groups which disseminate government information are exempt by statute from paying.
Delay can only work only so well once we file suit, and recently Treasury turned over a first production of approximately 770 pages of reports. Despite its better efforts Treasury managed to hand over some docs that in an attentive world should prove extremely useful, offering fantastic language if often buried in pointy-headed advice they received in Power Points and papers from the IMF, G-20 and, in graphic terms, an analysis from the World Bank on how to bring a carbon tax about.
These documents represent thoughtful advice on how to mug the American taxpayer and coerce them out of unacceptable and anti-social behavior, diverting at least 10% of the spoils to overseas wealth transfers. The major focus is language, how to sell it to the poor saps not by noting the cost or that it is a tax but as, for example, the way to be the leader in something like solar technology.
This expensive advice certainly does sound familiar. The best language came in a paper produced for World Bank clients (Treasury) that had been hiding in plain sight (incidentally, agencies are not supposed to turn over publicly available documents under FOIA; but this and other such entries provides the illusion of voluminous cooperation). The non-private nature of the advice does not diminish its utility to understand what’s going on, such as enjoyable excerpts such as these:
“Actively manage the political economy of reform. Managing the political economy of reform also entails measures that target those segments of the population that would otherwise oppose reforms. For example, in 2010 the Islamic Republic of Iran increased domestic energy prices by up to 20 times, reducing fossil fuel subsidies by some $50 billion–$60 billion. It offset them with $30 billion in cash transfers that benefited 80 percent of its population, thereby addressing the fact that opposition to the reform of such subsidies usually comes from the middle class. The combination of cash transfers with a well-orchestrated public relations campaign was critical to the success of the reform (Guillaume and others 2011).
Understanding the sources of resistance to a reform helps to design the reform process in a way that minimizes this resistance (box O.4)….”
As a result, how messages are framed, what values are appealed to, and how the needed efforts are presented are critical. …[F]raming green policies as a way to reach an ambitious and positive social goal (such as becoming carbon neutral by 2050 or becoming a leader in solar technologies) makes them more acceptable (and less prone to reversal at the next change of government) than if they are perceived as a constraint to economic development.”
“By priming or framing personal behavior as part of a larger social goal, the public and private sectors can induce people to behave in more environment-friendly ways, particularly when they act as groups, as group decisions have been found to be made with less selfishness than individual decisions (Milch and others 2007). By framing environmental protection as a “social project,” policy makers can make individuals think in terms of social and collective goals. … However, their willingness to do so depends partly on what the surcharge is called: simply relabeling a carbon “tax” as a carbon “offset” increases its acceptability (Hardisty and others 2010).
In addition, people are more likely to accept increases in energy prices if they perceive them as needed to reach an ambitious and positive social goal than if they perceive them as top-down government decisions to reduce oil imports or protect the climate…. This framing makes it more likely that the public will accept the resulting increases in the price of electricity. It also reduces the risk that the decision will be reversed by the next government.”
Obviously, Treasury is proceeding in the time-honored tradition of releasing those records that they deem least likely to be revealing, saving the best for last, after promiscuously heavy-handed redactions to be litigated later. This works hand-in-glove with the recent and seemingly coordinated chorus calling for a carbon tax.
Regardless, yesterday I received 253 pages of email, mostly chaff. This came after I indicated to Treasury’s counsel at the Department of Justice our plan to bring the court’s attention to the remarkable failure to produce even one email after claims of spending four months processing thousands of them.
Yesterday’s production of 253 pages of emails, which CEI will post shortly, mostly address boring old World Bank/project finance/forestry credit programs. Still, to see, e.g., the World Bank passing along WWF stances to its client the Treasury Department, and the State Department convening audiences for Nature Conservancy pitches at this stage is noteworthy.
It also includes a May 7, 2012 email from Treasury to a South Korean representative stating, “My colleagues here at the US Treasury are interested to learn more about the carbon trading legislation that was recently passed by the Korean parliament.”
Then the head of Treasury’s Office of Environment and Energy asks around among his colleagues for a briefing paper on Korea’s carbon tax (June 8, 2012). Korea really is where it’s at on this front. Spain is so…well, we don’t say Spain anymore apparently.
That all of them would participate in a “social cost of carbon” (What is that? Diamonds? Pencils?) session at EPA begs an invitation to a seminar on the social cost of their ‘carbon’ agenda.
Speaking of costs, the emails show Team Obama chatting up how to price ‘carbon’ and otherwise model the agenda last May; and how things are working in Europe for comparisons for the sweet-spot on price, in July 2012. Just in case someone…else…manages to bring such a thing into law here. Other emails expressed concerns that the EU price for CO2 ration coupons had gotten so low (July 2012).
One email harkened back to the World Bank’s advice on how to sucker the public into tolerating more energy taxes, in a wink to Harvard’s Joseph Aldy about it sure would be neat to see some work on what the public thinks about a “carbon charge”, instead of what he had presented to them, how they view a national renewable energy standard. In short, it’s all about getting the masses nodding.
Finally, I see the Obama Treasury staff subscribe to the oddest updates, like the Heinrich Boll Stiftung (Germany’s Green Party).
More updates later as the better, if far more heavily redacted documents come with monthly deliveries on or about the 22d, followed by litigating those redactions.
Christopher Horner is a fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author, his most recent book being “The liberal War on Transparency