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The Inside Story of How the Climate Bill Died

October 3, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

By historical standards, the 111th Congress has been incredibly prolific. But on the most important issue facing humanity right now, they never even got so far as introducing a viable bill in the all-important upper chamber.

Ryan Lizza has a lengthy must-read piece in the new New Yorker that has just gone online about “how the Senate and the White House missed their best chance to deal with climate change.” In great detail it describes how the tri-partisan coalition of John Kerry [D, MA], Lindsey Graham [R, SC] and Joe Lieberman [I, CT] worked for months to strike a deal with all the parties involved (including private industry) on a climate bill that could get 60 votes in the Senate, only to see everything fall apart just days before their bill was set to be introduced because of neglect from the White House and Democratic leadership in Congress. In remembering the 111th Congress and the Democratic resurgence of the past half a decade, this tale of defeat deserves to be given at least as much attention as the legislative victories with health care and financial reform.

Towards the end of the article, Lizza has some observations from Al Gore that I think are spot on:

In September, I asked Al Gore why he thought climate legislation had failed. He cited several reasons, including Republican partisanship, which had prevented moderates from becoming part of the coalition in favor of the bill. The Great Recession made the effort even more difficult, he added. “The forces wedded to the old patterns still have enough influence that they were able to use the fear of the economic downturn as a way of slowing the progress toward this big transition that we have to make.”

A third explanation pinpointed how Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman approached the issue. “The influence of special interests is now at an extremely unhealthy level,” Gore said. “And it’s to the point where it’s virtually impossible for participants in the current political system to enact any significant change without first seeking and gaining permission from the largest commercial interests who are most affected by the proposed change.”

Comprehensive climate change legislation is dead this session, and probably will be dead for the next couple years, but there is still a chance that Congress will take up legislation when they come back in November that would force utilities to generate more of their power from renewable sources. There’s a new bill floating around from Sen. Sam Brownback [R, KS] and Sen. Jeff Bingaman [D, NM] (S.3813) that now has the backing of 4 Republicans, plus Lieberman. It would set a renewable energy standard of 15%, which is less than most environmental would like, but is an improvement over how much renewable energy we are producing currently. The bill is one of 20 or so that will be competing for floor time in the post-midterm lame-duck session.

Go read that article!

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