I recognize that many observers believe that the President’s failure to mention climate change in last night’s Oval Office address basically sounded the death rattle for a cap and trade program to get through Congress this year. My answer would be there’s no sign it wasn’t dead already. Senate Democrats just don’t want a comprehensive climate bill. And it’s not a question of one or two members – it doesn’t look like something with a price for carbon even has majority support. When this is your average Senate Democrat, very little will happen:
“The climate bill isn’t going to stop the oil leak,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. “The first thing you have to do is stop the oil leak.”
On the other side of this, Nancy Pelosi suggested yesterday that a bill without a carbon cap couldn’t pass the House. So things seem stuck.
The Administration does appear to be going to work to find out what can pass. The President is speaking with lawmakers, starting with Scott Brown (R-MA) today. A bipartisan summit of sorts is on the schedule for next week. The President set a date for legislation to hit the Senate floor – July 12. They would then wait to merge the House and Senate bills in a lame-duck session after the elections:
Phil Schiliro, the White House congressional liaison, has told the Senate to aim to take up an energy bill the week of July 12, after the July 4 break (and after the scheduled final passage of Wall Street reform). Kagan confirmation will follow, ahead of the summer break, scheduled to begin Aug. 9. The plan is to conference the new Senate bill with the already-passed House bill IN A LAME-DUCK SESSION AFTER THE ELECTION, so House members don’t have to take another tough vote ahead of midterms.
The biggest green groups seem approving of the biggest comprehensive bill they can get. In a letter to Senate Committee Chairs, 18 major environmental groups – most of the nation’s environmental establishment, including NRDC and the Sierra Club – advocates called for taking the best of all the possible plans already put forward by Senators. This comes in advance of a big meeting tomorrow of the entire Democratic caucus to hammer out exactly what kind of a bill to push. The letter does lead with the urgency of putting a cap on carbon pollution:
The President went on to say that the time has come to aggressively accelerate the transition to clean energy, and that:
… [t]he only way the transition to clean energy will succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future – if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed. And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.
The President is right. Only a comprehensive bill that includes limits on carbon pollution can put in place the incentives needed to create the jobs and security that are essential to our future prosperity. This legislation should be written in a way that makes clear to the American people how it is responsive to the Gulf disaster. And it needs to take aggressive steps to deal with the immediate issues raised by the BP spill, as well as the underlying problem of oil dependence. This effort can succeed by articulating clearly the security, economic, and environmental benefits of these measures so that the defenders of big oil and dirty coal – as well as ideological opponents of reform–can’t hide behind empty rhetoric and delaying tactics.
And then the enviros ask to “draw from existing legislation,” including bills without a carbon cap. They want to lift the liability cap, reform offshore drilling regulations, increase sustainable biofuels and vehicle efficiency, move to electric cars, expand the renewable energy standard and increase energy efficiency across the board. They want a “best of all bills” approach:
Several Senators have already developed legislation addressing most of these issues. For example, Gulf response measures have been developed by Senators Vitter and LeMieux, as well as by Senator Menendez and others; oil reduction measures have been advanced by Senators Dorgan, Alexander, and Merkley; carbon pollution limits have been developed by Senators Cantwell and Collins and Senators Kerry and Lieberman; and energy efficiency and renewable energy measures have been advanced by Senator Bingaman and by Senator Lugar. Each of these bills has its strengths; several have fundamental weaknesses as well. But by combining their strengths, they can provide the basis for assembling a broad package that can be brought to the Senate floor this summer.
I fully agree that you have to name your target, and if you feel a need to fight climate change, you actually have to fight climate change, especially because your opponents will accuse you of doing that in the worst possible fashion. Even a bill that has noble energy goals but no climate cap will be called cap and tax. But at least the green groups are arguing an all-of-the-above instead of a pre-compromised strategy. Only problem with that is that some of the legislation they’re drawing from, particularly with respect to the cap (Kerry-Lieberman and even Cantwell-Collins), is already pre-compromised.