It is extremely disheartening that serious climate change policy appears unlikely to pass Congress this year, and may very well not be on the agenda for years to come (if ever). I blame Obama for not making comprehensive energy reform a serious priority, and not using the disaster in the Gulf to make a forceful and passionate case to the American people that now is the time to break our addiction to fossil fuels.
Whether the political battles of the past year, the persistently weak economy, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have drained Obama to the point that he doesn’t have it in him to rise to the occasion, I don’t know. But he has let down the environmental community, his supporters, and ultimately the country; it is simply insane that in 2010 we still subsidize fossil fuels and fund the Saudi and Iranian mullahs with our thirst for cheap gasoline. Adding insult to injury, China is overtaking us in the production of renewable energy.
The primary obstacle in the way of climate change legislation is the 60-vote threshold in the Senate. Why the Administration doesn’t put good legislation up for a vote and let the GOP block it, making clear to the American people that they at least tried, is beyond me. With a Republican Party united in opposition, there’s no way that serious energy policy can pass.
Not only is the GOP opposed to passing legislation that only months ago was co-sponsored by one of its more conservative members, Lindsey Graham; in fact, Republicans are attempting to move backwards:
1. Senator Murkowski of Alaska tried to pass a measure that would’ve prevented the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases; the measure fell short by only four votes, with a few “centrist” Democrats voting with the Republicans.
2. The GOP continues to block efforts to lift the liability cap on BP, which currently stands at a paltry $75 million (if ever there was evidence that Republicans are shills for the oil industry, this is it).
3. Despite the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, Republican governors and members of Congress continue to call for an increase in offshore drilling.
A recent op-ed by Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee perfectly encapsulates the intellectual bankruptcy of the GOP. In his WSJ piece, “An Energy Strategy for Grown-Ups”, Alexander makes no mention of climate change and displays no understanding of the most basic aspects of energy policy. He argues that wind power won’t help reduce our dependence on foreign oil because oil supplies the transportation sector, while also stating that we need to begin electrifying the transportation sector (which could be done with wind power). He says that utilities need an economic incentive to reduce CO2, which is exactly what the bills he opposes attempt to provide; but he offers no ideas along these lines, and without government intervention utilities will never reduce CO2 emissions on their own. Adding to the circus-like atmosphere of the GOP’s attempts at energy policy, Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts defended his vote to strip the EPA of its ability to regulate CO2 because the EPA is a “non-governmental” entity; this from a sitting U.S. senator!
The bottom line is that the GOP is wholly unserious about energy policy. Republicans seek to do everything they can to maintain record energy industry profits (including lax safety regulations in the coal, oil, and gas sectors), and are happy with an energy trade balance that sends hundreds of billions a year to nations with interests contrary to ours (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Venezuela).
This kowtowing to corporate interests and the anti-science crowd would be appalling in the worst banana republic or authoritarian regime; coming from the leader of the free world, it’s vastly more disturbing. Without U.S. progress on climate policy, the chances for a post-Kyoto deal are vastly diminished.
When we look back decades from now at the interests that blocked progress on the pressing environmental goals of the 21st century, we will realize that the GOP had literally become enemies of the Earth.