New York Times economics writer David Leonhardt examines a question that David and I have enjoyed disagreeing about (or at least that I’ve enjoyed disagreeing with David about) for a couple of months now: Is John Dingell sincere about tackling climate change, or is he pulling old tricks?

Leonhardt recounts the tale of Dingell’s efforts to block fuel-economy standards introduced by former Sen. Richard Bryan a couple of decades ago by introducing a bill that would have created a nuclear waste dump in Bryan’s home state of Nevada. Are we seeing that type of tactic again, albeit in slightly different form?

I still go back and forth on this. On the one hand, Dingell talks a good game to the press. On the other, what’s really important is for him to whip up support among his colleagues for his carbon-tax proposal. The congressional aides I’ve talked to about this take stances ranging from “we don’t trust him” to “we never know what he’s really thinking” to “we believe he’s out to axe real progress” to “it’s too early to say.” Time, as the kids are fond of saying, will tell.

Leonhardt writes, "If nothing else, it’s also enormously useful that Mr. Dingell is no longer suggesting, as he did just eight months ago, that the scientific consensus on global warming may be a ‘great error.’" It would be fascinating to figure out how Dingell came around, if he in fact has. And he certainly would like us to believe he has:

After the town hall meeting [which Dingell had called to discuss climate change] was over — and he had listened to a couple of hours of questions about timed traffic lights, nuclear power and the possibility of impeaching President Bush — Mr. Dingell sat down in a dark area behind the stage. I asked him whether Mr. Gore, who has been both a Dingell nemesis and ally at various times, had been right for all those years he was pointing out what was happening to the earth’s climate.

“I think a cold statement on that point would be yes,” Mr. Dingell replied.

And would it have been easier to solve the problem if we had started earlier?

“What’s the saying? The saddest words in the English language — ‘might have been.'”