FRIEDMAN: Party needs a spot of green tea

I've been trying to understand the Tea Party movement. Sounds like a lot of angry people who want to get the government out of their lives and cut both taxes and the deficit. Nothing wrong with that — although one does wonder where they were in the Bush years.

Never mind. I'm sure like all such protest movements the Tea Partiers will get their 10 to 20 percent of the vote. But should the Tea Partiers actually aspire to break out of that range, attract young people and become something more than just entertainment for Fox News, I have a suggestion: Become the Green Tea Party.

I'd be happy to design the T-shirt logo and write the manifesto.

The logo is easy. It would show young Americans throwing barrels of oil imported from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia into Boston Harbor.

The manifesto is easy, too: "We, the Green Tea Party, believe that the most effective way to advance America's national security and economic vitality would be to impose a $10 'Patriot Fee' on every barrel of imported oil, with all proceeds going to pay down our national debt."

America now imports about 11 million barrels a day, about 57 percent of our total oil needs — mostly from Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. As T. Boone Pickens told Congress the other day: "In January 2010, our trade deficit for the month was $37.3 billion — $27.5 billion of that was money we sent overseas to import oil."

If we put a Patriot Fee on all of those imported barrels, we would use less, cease enriching bad regimes, strengthen our own dollar, make the air cleaner and the climate more stable, foster the exploitation of domestic and renewable energy sources, promote electric vehicles, help bring down the global price of oil (which hurts Iran and helps poor Africa), and we could use the revenue to shrink the deficit. It's win, win, win, win, win, win ...

Indeed, the Green Tea Party could say, "We've got our own health care plan — a plan to make America healthy by simultaneously promoting energy security, deficit security and environmental security."

Yes, I know, dream on. The Tea Party is heading to the hard libertarian right and would never support an energy bill that puts a fee on carbon.

So if there is going to be a Green Tea Party, it will have to emerge from a different place — the radical center, a center committed to a radical departure from business as usual. Acting on that impulse, Sens. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman are expected to unveil a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill on Monday that deserves an energetic centrist Green Tea Party to support it.

This bill is far from perfect. It is a shame the fossil fuel industries still have such a stranglehold on Congress. But it's the best we're going to get, and we have got to get started. But without a centrist Green Tea Party movement — one that brings the same passion to cutting emissions that the Tea Party brings to cutting deficits — even this effort will never pass.

This bill introduces a carbon price and other means to control the CO2 emissions of various econominc sectors, without a cap-and-trade system. The goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

But to garner broad support, it will also expand domestic production of oil, natural gas and nuclear power and offer tax breaks to manufacturers who make their facilities more energy efficient and create green jobs.

In short, the bill is a step in the right direction toward reducing greenhouse gases and expanding our base of clean power technologies so we can compete with China in this newest global industry. It ain't perfect, but it ain't beanbag. And if we don't start now, every solar panel, electric car and wind turbine we'll have to buy when climate change really hits will come with instructions in Chinese. Go Green Tea Party.