An NYT story reports that President Obama "spoke out against a provision in the bill that would impose trade penalties on countries that do not accept global-warming pollution limits." If so, this is very encouraging. So I consulted the transcript of the interview upon which the Times' story was based, and here is what the President said:
Q. One of the provisions that got added very late to this bill that senators had expressed some reservations about was the one that puts tariffs on goods imported from countries that don't have these sort of restrictions. What do you think of that revision and would you like to see the Senate strip it out?This seems to be much more equivocal than the initial story suggested. The President certainly expressed skepticism about tariffs, but he hardly staked out a firm position -- we should be "very careful," we should study "whether the prospects of tariffs are necessary," but there "may" be alternatives. I hope the NYT's interpretation is correct, but I have my doubts.
President Obama: At a time when the economy worldwide is still deep in recession and we've seen a significant drop in global trade, I think we have to be very careful about sending any protectionist signals out there. There were a number of provisions that were already in place, prior to this last provision you talked about, to provide transitional assistance to heavy manufacturers. A lot of the offsets were outdated to those industries. I think we're going to have to do a careful analysis to determine whether the prospects of tariffs are necessary, given all the other stuff that was done and had been negotiated on behalf of energy-intensive industries.
So certainly it is a legitimate concern on the part of American businesses that they are not disadvantaged vis-a-vis their global competitors. Now, keep in mind, European industries are looking at an even more ambitious approach than we are. And they obviously have confidence that they can compete internationally under a regime that controls carbons. I think the Chinese are starting to move in the direction of recognizing that the future requires them to take a clean energy approach. In fact, in some ways they're already ahead of us -- on fuel efficiency standards, for example, they've moved beyond where we've moved on this.
There are going to be a series of negotiations around this and I am very mindful of wanting to make sure that there's a level playing field internationally. I think there may be other ways of doing it than with a tariff approach.
On a tangential note, in the same interview -- which also included Energy Scretary Steven Chu and White House energy czar Carol Browner -- the latter erred when she suggested that CFC replacements were had yet to be developed when Congress enacted a CFC ban in the 1990 Clean Air Act. DuPont and other CFC producers began patenting and producing CFC substitutes years earlier. Indeed, these firms supported the CFC phaesout because it guaranteed a market for their alternative products.