Symbols in Sect. 526
Reintroduction of a bill to repeal Sect. 526 of the
Energy Independence and Security Act comes at a
fateful time. Sect. 526 prohibits the US government
from buying alternative transportation fuel without
contractually stipulating that use of the fuel would
emit no more greenhouse gas than would use of
a comparable amount of conventional petroleum.
One effect of the measure has been to preclude the
purchase by federal agencies, including military
forces, of transport fuel made from bitumen produced in the Canadian oil sands.
Whether Congress actually intended to target
the oil sands when it enacted the provision in
2007 remains unclear. Because climate zealots
embraced Sect. 526 in their campaign against Canadian bitumen, which they call “dirty oil,” however, past efforts to repeal the measure have failed.
With Republicans now in control of both houses
of Congress, the new initiative, which has bipartisan support, might succeed.
What, then, would President Barack Obama do?
In the final years of his presidency, Obama is pushing an aggressive program of climate-change mitigation. He obviously wants to leave office to environmentalist cheers. The president thus wants the
US to be seen, at an international meeting in December, to be leading the fight against what his administration calls carbon pollution. Yet in surveys
and votes by the lawmakers they elect, Americans
show little enthusiasm for his agenda. They express
healthy worry about climate change but grade it
very low when ranking issues of concern. They
clearly care more about the economy and security.
To kindle support for its costly climate-change
goals, Obama has begun a campaign of terror.
With polar bears said to be in less jeopardy than
once asserted by climate propagandists, his ad-
ministration promotes rising incidence of asthma
as a compulsion to replace hydrocarbon energy
with costlier substitutes. It increasingly blames
human activity for distressful weather. It points to
record-high temperature averages of the past 15
years while ignoring the near absence of predicted
additional warming over that period. In general,
according to Obama in his Apr. 18 weekly address,
“Today, there’s no greater threat to our planet than
To say the least, this statement is disputable,
although anyone disputing it will be scorned as a
climate “denier.” It is, in fact, hyperbole, issued to
elicit fear on behalf of a narrow, radical agenda. And
it shows an alarming absence of perspective. When
sectarian barbarism is gutting whole countries in
the Middle East and Africa, when affiliated terror-
ists are caught with troubling frequency plotting
mass murder elsewhere, and when nuclear prolifer-
ation appears on the verge of a new and dangerous
phase, to call climate change a superlative threat is
The alarmist exaggeration in Obama’s statement is more strategic than polemic. Activists use
information that way. When their unyielding arguments and proffered evidence come under attack,
they disparage attackers instead of defending their
cases. Obama migrated to government from this
world and governs in the manner to which he’s accustomed.
In that world, symbols exert extraordinary influence. Sect. 526 is important more as a symbol than
as anything else. It doesn’t affect production or consumption of bitumen meaningfully and certainly
doesn’t influence climate change. But it represents
an early move toward the stigmatization of oil
sands, sustained in defiance of relations with Canada and intellectually linked with grander mistakes
like delay of the Keystone XL pipeline and low-carbon fuel standards, proposed and in place. Although repealing such a symbol would have trivial
environmental consequence, doing so would incite
protests from environmentalist activists. Obama’s
natural inclination would be to resist it.
Outside the activist realm, Sect. 526 might
resonate symbolically in a much different way.
With global peril intensifying and the US military shrinking, impairing fuel procurement by
the Defense Department for any reason signifies
misaligned priorities. The president should have
to address symbolic compromise of security interests, too, while deciding whether to coddle political supporters by vetoing Sect. 526 repeal.