After many years of trying, we’re moving in the right direction at last
I’m a bit bleary eyed after midnight votes, and about to do an event in Boston on the energy fight, but I wanted to come back here to Gristmill to tell you how good it feels to have gotten something good done in the Senate instead of just stopping bad things from happening.
A year ago I was battling to stop drilling in ANWR. Last night, finally — after years of battling and five years after we introduced the Kerry-McCain legislation to raise fuel efficiency standards — we actually accomplished things in the Senate that will improve the environment.
This is something that never would’ve happened with Bill Frist as the Majority Leader. But with Harry Reid leading the Senate, we were able to finally pass the first significant rise in CAFE standards in over a generation.
I can’t tell you what a difference this makes. Yes, this has been an issue for me for many years, and I took a lot of heat for this during the 2004 race — you might remember the Bush-Cheney campaign saying we were going to cost jobs in Michigan, when the truth is this is going to create good jobs in Michigan.
But after all the hits we took, after all the scare tactics, truth won a victory last night. Why? Because all of the activists of the Democratic Party helped to deliver a Democratic Congress, and now we can start the long process of building an energy economy that can work for us in the 21st century and can address climate change instead of making it a hell of a lot worse.
This isn’t the perfect solution to the CAFE debate, and the overall energy bill still lacks some important components. But I never thought this would happen right away, and legislative change can be a long battle of attrition. In fact, you can bet that’s exactly what it will be — more on that soon. (In fact, in Boston I’m unveiling a scorecard of what we achieved and what we missed, and the work that remains to be done.)
But bottom line, we’re moving the right direction on this, and with continued pressure and continued work, we can change the way we get our energy and the way we do business.
The nitty gritty details of what’s in the energy bill can be found here, if you’d like to get the full rundown. But this is an historic moment; fuel fleet efficiency standards have been stagnant for 20 years, while oil prices have skyrocketed and our climate crisis has gotten more acute. Finally, we have a Congress that isn’t burying its collective head in the sand over this. We’re beginning the long process of moving forward.
We also managed to include a great number of other environmental initiatives in this energy bill, including support for furthering the technology on carbon capture and sequestration (something I worked with the folks at MIT on and I think holds huge potential). There are also provisions providing support for the development of more efficient lighting materials and building materials, as well as authorizing a program for electric drive transportation. And we set specific guidelines for the reduction of gasoline usage from projected levels and required biennial reports on the progress toward meeting those goals.
So what’s next? We were very close to getting my major tax package included in this bill, one that rolled back $9 billion of tax breaks for big oil companies and added incentives for plug-in hybrids and many other environmentally beneficial technologies. We are only one vote short of breaking the GOP filibuster on that, and when Tim Johnson returns to the Senate from his courageous battle back to health, we can try again.
We still need to pass legislation demanding that our nation get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Proposals to set requirements like that were blocked by (you guessed it!) a GOP filibuster. But the American people are demanding action, so we’re gaining converts every vote.
This energy bill is not the single silver bullet solution to our energy and climate crises. But after years of fighting a losing battle to get any progress toward solving those problems, I am very happy to finally be moving in the right direction. The momentum is on our side, and we’ll continue to create truly revolutionary change in our economy.
Thanks for all of your help.
Get Grist in your inbox