What are the prospects for comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the coming years?
The chances for either an economy-wide shrinking cap on greenhouse gas emissions or a major push on clean energy investment over the next several years are not large — on this Earth. The chances would be higher on planet Eaarth, where (in descending order of importance):
- Senate Republicans aren’t in the thrall of the anti-science, pro-pollution ideologues and special interests.
- The media coverage of climate science, solutions, and economics isn’t so abysmal.
- The president gives a full-throated push on such legislation.
On planet Earth, the majorities in both houses that favor any serious action will dwindle in 2011. If 2010 is the third straight wave election and the GOP takes the House, then there is no prospect for any action whatsoever as long as they control the House (that goes double for GOP control of the Senate, which is less likely because of too many Tea-Party-driven GOP candidates).
On Earth, the best one could plausibly hope for in the next Congress, assuming only modest Republican gains, is some sort of weak cap on utility emissions, possibly with some weak oil saving measures, though that would still require Obama to do what he refused to do under more favorable political circumstances — push hard for a bill.
But we also have planet D.C., where media outlets like The Washington Post drive a factually dubious but potentially self-fulfilling conventional wisdom, as in their front page story today, “Among House Democrats in Rust Belt, a sense of abandonment over energy bill,” which opens:
When Democratic Rep. John Boccieri went home to Ohio early this year to talk with voters in his Canton-based district, he figured he would have to do battle with at least some constituents over his support for health-care reform. And the economic stimulus. And the auto company bailouts.
But at a meeting with business leaders, he had to come up with fast answers on something completely different: Why, the businessmen wanted to know, had Boccieri voted for a bill last summer to cap carbon emissions, which they feared would drive up their energy bills in the middle of a recession? [Emphasis mine.]
So few words, so much BS.
If you think Boccieri wasn’t prepared for questions on his climate vote in a meeting with business leaders — aka a meeting with many Republicans with even more likely planted questions — and hence had to unexpectedly and suddenly “come up with fast answers,” then you just passed the entrance examination for Washington Post political reporters.
You can tell that either the questions were planted or the WP reporters themselves have bought the right-wing talking points (or both), when you realize that the House bill would not have even started to cap emissions until 2012, hardly “the middle of a recession”! And, of course, with a very modest cap in the early years and strong efficiency measures, the bill would have lowered Americans’ electric bills, according to EPA, but you can’t expect The Washington Post to explain such complicated matters to their readers, can you?
The story continues:
Boccieri said he was tired of wars based on “petrol dictators and big oil.”
“If I can take a tough vote today, I’m going to take that vote,” said the freshman lawmaker, an Air Force reservist who flew C-130s over Iraq for more than a year.
But 13 months after that tough vote, Boccieri and dozens of other House Democrats along the Rust Belt are not at all happy with the way things have turned out. The White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had assured reluctant members that the Senate would take up the measure. Although Senate passage wasn’t a sure thing, House Democrats hoped to go back home to voters with a great story to tell — about reducing dependence on foreign oil, slowing climate change, and creating jobs.
That didn’t happen. Senate leaders, sensing political danger, repeatedly put off energy legislation, and the White House didn’t lean on them very hard to make it a priority. In the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill, the Senate is set to take up a stripped-down bill next week, but the controversial carbon-emissions cap is conspicuously missing.
This has left some House Democrats feeling badly served by their leaders. Although lawmakers are reluctant to say so publicly, their aides and campaign advisers privately complain that the speaker and the president left Democrats exposed on an unpopular issue that has little hope of being signed into law. [Emphasis mine.]
D.C. “Pack Journalism 101” requires that you never let the facts get in the way of the narrative you want to tell the reader. In fact, the Post‘s own June poll found:
Some 71 percent of those surveyed back federal regulation of the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars, and factories in an effort to reduce global warming. The idea also had strong majority support in polls last year.
Dan Weiss of the Center for American Progress wrote a letter the Post published two weeks ago calling the paper out for a similar piece of journalistic malpractice, but the Post has never really taken its letters to the editor seriously — they appear to be mainly placebos for readers (see here).
While it is absurd for the Post to keep ignoring its own polling — along with countless other polls — the view that this is somehow an unpopular issue has taken hold as some sort of perverse conventional wisdom by otherwise smart people like Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod.
The Post continues:
Some Democrats liken the situation to that of the 1993 “Btu” tax. The House passed the tax, but the Senate never took it up. Many House Democrats felt hung out on a limb in the 1994 elections, when Republicans reclaimed control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
The implication that the Btu tax was the primary cause of the Republicans reclaiming control of Congress is nonsense. This ignores the House banking scandal, redistricting, trumped up Clinton controversies like Whitewater and the travel office firings, the assault weapons ban that ignited the NRA, and many other issues. But the conventional D.C. wisdom is that it did matter, even if it probably di
dn’t matter much. Similarly, if House Democrats who voted for Waxman-Markey lose, that may also become the conventional wisdom, even if the economy, the bailout vote, and the grotesqueness mis-messaging on the health-care bill and stimulus are the main reasons.
On Earth, the House Democrats have not been hung out on a limb by environmentalists and clean energy advocates, which have kept up their relentless campaign for the bill, which is why the poll numbers for it have actually grown.
But the House Democrats have been hung out on a limb by the White House, which failed to use many persuasion tools at its disposal, only occasionally used the bully pulpit to make a strong case for the necessity of the bill, and never forced the Senate to take a vote on a similar bill. So you can be sure that even if Democrats retain control of the House next year, they aren’t going to pass a new bill until the Senate passes one of its own, which will probably require nearly 10 Republicans to vote for a bill, an unlikely proposition given that it was fairly clear that not even a single Republican was prepared to vote for a comprehensive bill that had a chance of getting close to 60 votes — and many former Republican supporters of action, like John McCain, were actually demagoguing against it. Certainly, it is inconceivable that the next Congress would even contemplate strong climate or clean energy legislation without Obama undergoing a major strategy change and taking a very strong leadership role in crafting the bill and lobbying for the bill and selling it to the public.
So that leaves post-2012, which requires us to move into the realm of even more difficult speculation. To imagine the possibility of comprehensive legislation in 2013, you have to hypothesize a pretty good economic rebound and/or the Republicans nominating a dreadful candidate like Sarah Palin, leading to a landslide for Obama (à la 1964 and 1984). Then you have to imagine the long-sought-for strategy change by the White House leading to fairly rapid passage in both houses of … what? Something stronger than a cap on utility emissions? It still requires the Obama reversal, for him to get carbon cojones.
Yes, there is the possibility of near-term climate Pearl Harbors stimulating action, but then again there is also the possibility of Iceland’s Katla volcano erupting in the next year, cooling the Earth a tad for a year or so, giving the disinformers another talking point to befuddle the media and public with. And remember, we just had one of the biggest fossil energy Pearl Harbors imaginable in the Gulf of Mexico, but Obama let that opportunity to create a call to action pass. Oh, and yes, there is always the equally slim chance of filibuster reform, ending the extraconstitutional, supermajority requirement.