Cuccinelli denialist witch-hunt is about political ambition, not climate science (Part 2 of 2)


Dr. Michael Mann

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s renewed ‘Civil Investigative Demand’ for documents relating to research at the University of Virginia by climate scientist Michael Mann is blatantly bogus in its purported interest in scientific integrity. But it is transparent in its willingness to use legal bullying to promote a rising radical right-wing politician. Global warming, climate policy, and Mann just happen to be available as stepping-stones.Continuing from Part 1:

In my judgment, Cuccinelli has no real interest in Michael Mann, nor the 39 other scientists named in the Civil Investigative Demand, nor in climate science. I think it’s evident he knows little about the world of scientific research and cares little for integrity in relating scientific research to public policy. This episode is entirely political. It’s fundamentally about advancing Cuccinelli’s position in the Republican/Tea Party and corporate campaign donor arena.

In this arena, denialist politicians like Cuccinelli are carrying water for energy industry and other corporate interests that have always had as their bottom line that they do not want to be regulated on greenhouse gas emissions. They are not against ‘clean energy’ alternatives in principle. But they are unwilling to cede any power or control of the existing energy supply system and the policy process that affects it. They intend to allow a transition only to the extent that they can control it and make it compatible with their economic interests.

Cuccinelli’s father is a former fossil energy industry lobbyist and Cuccinelli’s campaign for AG was funded in part by coal, gas, and electric utility interests, including a modest check from the notorious Koch brothers. The Koch brothers fund much of the global warming denial machine as well as a variety of pseudo-populist groups that are increasingly being drawn into and co-opted by corporate funding.

Hiding behind ‘libertarian’ rhetoric of limited government and ‘free markets,’ these super-wealthy interests concentrate on protecting their wealth and power from any real popular democratic encroachment. They are in a position to fund, at whatever level they deem necesssary, the careers of whatever political candidates appear most combative and effective in advancing their agenda. Cuccinelli appears to be jockeying for position in this context.

“This isn’t about health care; it’s about liberty,” Cuccinelli said at a Tea Party rally in June, speaking about Virginia’s lawsuit against the new federal health care law. Cuccinelli and more than a dozen other state attorneys general filed suit against the law on constitutional grounds. With his primary focus on taking down “Obamacare,” and the attack on climate policy, Cuccinelli is maneuvering himself into the national spotlight on issues that go well beyond the parochial concerns of Virginia.

The current Virginia Governor, Bob McDonnell, is limited by state law to a single term in office. Cuccinelli could potentially become the next governor in 2013. Or he could run against U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who is up for re-election in 2012, or Mark Warner in 2014. With such a victory, he could be launched to the level of potential consideration as a Republican vice-presidential candidate. Or perhaps U.S. Attorney General, if the Republicans win the White House back in 2012. Just a fantasy, perhaps. But that’s how ambitious elected officials think about their paths forward.

I think the really significant climate change issue right now for Cuccinelli, as with the rest of the global warming denial machine of which he is now a significant part, is to derail the process in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving toward regulation of greenhouse gas emissions using its authority under the Clean Air Act. With climate change legislation dead at the hands of a coalition of Republicans and conservative corporate-oriented Democrats, their next move is to block regulatory action at EPA.

Behind the denialist attack on the so-called ‘climategate’ stolen e-mails and the campaign to undermine the credibility of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – of which the Cuccinelli witch hunt is a direct extension – is the politics of regulatory policy. It is about protecting corporate interests from regulation. We shouldn’t get too preoccupied with the denialist operatives and their propaganda per se (though it’s valuable to keep setting the record straight on the science). Follow the money up the power curve.

On February 16, 2010, Cuccinelli filed a request with EPA to reopen its proceeding on the agency’s ‘Endangerment Finding’ (pursuant to a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007) that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. He also sought judicial review of EPA’s finding in federal court. Cuccinelli asked that a judge remand the case to the EPA and require the agency to review the case. On March 19, he announced that at least 15 states supported Virginia’s position.

On April 1, Cuccinelli announced he also will challenge EPA’s new March 2010 standards for fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, finalized under the Clean Air Act. On the other side, 17 states and New York City have joined EPA in opposition to Virginia’s position. That coalition filed a motion with the court asking that Cuccinelli’s motion dealing with the EPA’s new fuel standards for cars be rejected.

This is not to say that Cuccinelli doesn’t believe in the positions he takes, whether on climate change, health care, immigration, taxes, gay rights, and other issues. He does appear, at least, to be a true believer, a legitimate hard-line ‘conservative’ ideologue. It’s just that, in a case like his University of Virginia civil subpoena witch hunt, the ends justify the means.  He doesn’t care about the scientific evidence or the scientists he smears in pursuit of his ideological mission and political ambition. Global warming, EPA, and Michael Mann just happen to be available as stepping-stones.

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1 Response to Cuccinelli denialist witch-hunt is about political ambition, not climate science (Part 2 of 2)

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