Ah, the irony.

Some environmentalists at the throats of two of the greenest House of Representatives legislators, veritable icons for environmental activists over the past two decades.

It may be one of those situations legislators actually welcome – your erstwhile allies in effect providing you cover with their public blasts at how you caved in this time.

“Environmentalists Attack House Global Warming Deal,” time.com headlined its Saturday, May 16, posting.

“If it’s hard for Democrats to agree on tough global warming curbs, polar icecaps beware,” reporter Michael Weisskopf, at one time The Washington Post‘s environmental writer, opened.

In what may strike some as another bit of irony, he quoted Greenpeace’s Damon Moglen as saying of the Henry Waxman (D-Ca)/Ed Markey (D-Ma)-backed bill: “It’s unacceptable to base this bill on politics, instead of good science.”

Along with Public Citizen and Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace said the bill approved in subcommittee and pending before the full House Energy and Commerce Committee should be “fixed or ditched.” That appeared unlikely as the full committee was moving quickly toward passage as this update was posted May 19.

More pointedly, the dissenting group – calling itself theCLEAN.org – criticized the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. EDF and NRDC, it said, “sat [at] the table and, whether or not it was their intent to do so, provided ‘cover’ for these bad policies.” For an overview of the group’s complaints, go here.

‘Picking the Lock’ for passage

None of which impressed EDF President Fred Krupp, a long-time and vocal advocate of the cap-and-trade approach to controlling climate-changing gases. For Krupp, Waxman and Markey “picked the lock,” providing “a huge boost for passage of a cap this year.”

EDF pointed out that the bill sent to the full committee “includes an important and aggressive short-term target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.” That target, down from 20 percent in the earlier Waxman-Markey draft, is “right in the middle of the range called for by the 30 leading companies and nonprofit groups in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership.”

With “a strong cap on pollution with a smart plan to protect family budgets and economic competitiveness,” Krupp said, the “watershed agreement” can gain support from environmentalists, business interests … and “the diverse group of regional interests that make up the Congress.”

Taking the perhaps more pragmatic (and politically practical?) side of Al Gore, EDF and NRDC in the debate – and thereby the opposite side from, for instance, NASA scientist James Hansen – is liberal Princeton economist and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman.

In a May 18, 2009, New York Times op-ed column, he argues that “striking out a position has become much trickier” with “progressives and centrists” now running Washington.

“Policy tends to move things in a desirable direction, yet to fall short of what you’d hoped to see. And the question becomes how many compromises, how much watering down, one is willing to accept.”

Is Waxman-Markey “good enough?” To Krugman, claims that carbon taxes should beat-out cap-and-trade are “just wrong,” in part, he says, because they’d be impossible to ratify and enforce globally.

“If you had your heart set on a clean program, without major political payoffs, Waxman-Markey is a disappointment,” Krugman writes. But he thinks critics of the pending legislation are “making the perfect the enemy of the good.” The likely House bill “is imperfect, it’s disappointing in some respects,” he concludes. “But it’s action we can take now. And the planet won’t wait.”