Will the US Energy Climate Bill Ever Come to Pass?
As Senator John Kerry promises he’ll be back to try to get his comprehensive bill before the end of the year, Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times wonders who to blame as Democrats once again abandoned efforts to pass an energy/climate bill that would begin to cap greenhouse gases and promote renewable energy. “The best thing about improvements in health care is that all the climate-change deniers are now going to live long enough to see how wrong they were.”
Business Week (23 July 2010):
Bloomberg — U.S. Senator John Kerry said Democrats may take up his comprehensive climate-change bill in a lame-duck session after the November elections, while calling on President Barack Obama to escalate his advocacy for the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday introduced a more limited energy bill that doesn’t include a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, citing the lack of support for a broader bill.
The bigger measure “is not dead,” Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “If it is after the election, it may well be that some members are free and liberated and feeling that they can take a risk or do something.”
Kerry, who co-authored the Senate climate measure with Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, urged Obama to lobby for the bill in private meetings with undecided senators and at public events.
“People have to know it really counts,” said Kerry, 66.
On climate legislation, Kerry said Democrats have “well over 50” votes for a cap-and-trade program that requires power plants to buy and sell carbon-dioxide pollution rights. At least five Democrats from rural and Rust Belt states say they won’t support the plan and no Republican supports the bill, which will need 60 votes to pass the Senate.
“There is basically sort of a political shutdown going on here in Washington,” Kerry said.
The scaled-back legislation introduced by Reid mandates new offshore oil and gas drilling regulations, energy-efficiency programs and incentives for natural-gas-fueled vehicles. The bill will also increase the $75 million liability cap for companies that cause oil spills.
Legislation passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in June would eliminate the cap entirely, while Republican proposals would double the current cap to $150 million or expose a company to damages equal to the last four quarters of its profits.
Kerry said the Senate is more likely to raise the cap than eliminate it entirely.
“We ought to find out what the political market here and the Senate will bear and get to a realistic figure,” he said.
By Thomas L. Friedman
New York Times News Service (27 July 2010):
When I first heard Thursday that Senate Democrats were abandoning the effort to pass an energy/climate bill that would begin to cap greenhouse gases that cause global warming and promote renewable energy that could diminish our addiction to oil, I remembered something that Joe Romm, the climateprogress.org blogger, once said: The best thing about improvements in health care is that all the climate-change deniers are now going to live long enough to see how wrong they were.
Alas, so are the rest of us.
I could blame Republicans for the fact that not one GOP senator indicated a willingness to vote for a bill that would put the slightest price on carbon. I could blame the Democratic senators who were also waffling. I could blame President Barack Obama for his disappearing act on energy and spending more time reading the polls than changing the polls. I could blame the chamber of commerce and the fossil-fuel lobby for spending bags of money to subvert this bill.
The truth is, the public, confused and stressed by the last two years, never got mobilized to press for this legislation. We will regret it.
We’ve basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature’s operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign – even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so.
Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is what we’re doing.
Since I don’t have anything else to say, I will just fill out this column with a few news stories and e-mails.
Just as the U.S. Senate was abandoning plans for a U.S. cap-and-trade system, this article ran in The China Daily: “BEIJING – The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target …”
A day before the climate bill went down, Lew Hay, the CEO of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light, one of the nation’s biggest utilities, e-mailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewal energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear. “If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that’s roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years,” said Hay. (Say goodbye to that.)
Making our country more energy efficient is not some green feel-good thing. Retired Brig. Gen. Steve Anderson, who was Gen. David Petraeus’ senior logistician in Iraq, e-mailed to say that “over 1,000 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan hauling fuel to air-condition tents and buildings. If our military would simply insulate their structures, it would save billions of dollars and, more importantly, save lives of truck drivers and escorts. … And will take lots of big fuel trucks (aka Taliban Targets) off the road, expediting the end of the conflict.”
The last word goes to the contrarian hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham, who in his July letter to investors, noted:
“Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for … what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible ‘conspiracy theory’: The fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their PR skills, while wondering, as always: “Have they no grandchildren?”
Thomas Friedman is a New York Times columnist.
Will the US Energy Climate Bill Ever Come to Pass?