I’ve run into a lot of sentiment along the lines of this comment thread — harumphing about how weak and insufficient the impending energy bill is — and it seems crazy and wrongheaded to me.

I urge you to check out this post by Josh Dorner on the post-2000 history of energy bill negotiations. Remember what it’s been like.

Since I started at Grist, I’ve been writing about a Republican president and Congress trying over and over again to pass energy legislation focused on drilling, mining, and doling out subsidies. Their greed and overreach were such that they bungled it again and again, until the 2005 Energy Act, which was a slightly scaled down version of the same old thing.

That act was part and parcel of what energy policy has been in this country more or less since Ronald Reagan walked in the White House: a monomaniacal focus on extraction and supply coupled with generous corporate welfare.

In just over a year, Democrats, with a small majority in the House and a knife-edge margin in the Senate, have pulled together an energy bill that contains:

  1. The first CAFE boost since 1975. Even if you don’t think CAFE is crucial energy policy (I don’t), it ain’t nothing, and it is of extraordinary symbolic significance. It’s going to be the headline.
  2. A 15% Renewable Energy Standard — a clear statement of support for a new energy direction, echoing and amplifying state-level efforts.
  3. Billions in subsidies for clean energy.
  4. Boosted energy efficiency and green building standards.
  5. Yes, yes, a massive, horrendous boost in biofuels, but even on that front there are environmental safeguards attached that were absent in early negotiations.
Nancy Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Photo: speaker.gov.

The distance between this bill and where were were a year ago is remarkable. And it is a credit to the leadership.

If you’re determined to think that all politicians are craven simps, go ahead, but it’s hard for me to see what would count of evidence of boldness and commitment on Nancy Pelosi’s part if this doesn’t.

Don’t think she’s been tiptoeing around. Sen. Pete Domenici, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, is so pissed off at her he’s pulling out of the energy bill process. He’d gotten the impression that the RES (aka RPS) was off the table, but Pelosi’s pushed it back on. Says the irritated and possibly soon to be steamrolled Domenici:

RPS may not be the only deviation from the negotiated bill text, as the Speaker appears willing to take advantage of the lack of a formal conference committee process and institute other changes in the bill as she sees fit. 

You’ll recall that when they were in control, Republican leadership regularly pulled procedural shenanigans that made this look like patty cakes. But still, Pelosi isn’t playing by Queensbury Rules. She’s throwing elbows.

It wasn’t just leading Republicans Pelosi had to outmaneuver. As this NYT story makes clear, she’s also gone head to head with Rep. John Dingell, one of the most powerful committee chairs in recent history, and pulled him in line:

Mr. Dingell said that all sides had compromised to get a good deal on the energy bill, and he took credit for safeguarding the interests of the auto industry. In a telephone interview, he praised Ms. Pelosi and said his disagreements with her had been useful.

Outside observers, however, said Mr. Dingell had capitulated after realizing he could not win, especially given high oil prices. "The speaker basically took him on and won," said Dan Becker, an environmental consultant.

Pelosi’s been fighting hard and smart, and she’s done so out of what everyone who knows her describes as a genuine passion for renewable energy.

Please explain to me why the first reaction to this should be grumbling about how it’s not enough. What kind of political message does that send? What incentive does that give anyone to follow Pelosi out onto this limb?

You know what nobody likes? Nobody likes people who do nothing but judge and condemn and enforce in-group purity and piss on everyone’s shoes, including their friends’ shoes. Nobody wants to make any effort to please those people. Nobody even wants to get stuck in an elevator with them.

Of course this bill is not enough. Nothing will ever be enough, I guarantee you. But it’s a victory, and you know what people do like? People like winning. They like being on the winning team. They like winners. They want to hang around the winners, and act like them, and date them, and name drop them.

So please, take a moment for some strutting. Take strength from this victory, and give strength. Hand out some props for a job well done. Make politicians feel like there’s social and political capital to be gained by going green — if you do that, they’ll be back for more.

The arc of history is bending in our direction. Celebrate it. Tell everyone you know about it. Tell them about this: