There are reasons to be pessimistic about climate legislation
Maggie Fox of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection has an opinion piece in Politico in which she repeatedly laments the pessimism many have expressed that the Senate will finally take action on climate change legislation this year:
Even before the Senate starts debating clean energy and climate legislation, the professional pessimists are saying it will never happen … Now the action moves to the Senate. That’s why Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is determined to move legislation forward. And it’s why senators from both sides of the aisle are advancing proposals that can make this the year that the president signs comprehensive climate legislation into law. Yet the professional pessimists tell a different story.
She goes on to imply that this is driven largely by ‘those who reap benefits from the status quo:’
Those who reap benefits from the status quo are funding a stream of negative forecasting and denials of climate change science. But despite this well-financed effort to block progress, we are closer than ever to some real solutions.
There is some truth to this, but it also glosses over the fact that many of us who would very much like to see the Senate pass climate legislation this year — and follow this sort of thing pretty closely — are also pessimistic of the chances.
A few examples from the past week:
As much as I want this bill to pass, and know that we won’t see an opportunity like this again for quite a while, I’m finding it difficult to be optimistic. For one thing, Republicans will be under enormous pressure from their party to oppose any and all climate-related efforts, and they tend to buckle when the heat is on.
For another, there’s no guarantee that Midwestern Dems will stick with their party on this, either. And complicating matters further, if the Senate manages to pass a bill, the House leadership may struggle to put together another majority to seal the deal.
There really is a very narrow legislative window for the U.S. to do anything constructive about climate change. If I had to bet, I would bet on the window closing and our illustrious Senators and Representatives doing jack shit about this most pressing issue: Glad to be wrong.
Color me skeptical. I think the right wing is just too committed to the idea that taxes are always and everywhere bad (even if they’re rebated) and that global warming is a hoax Al Gore dreamed up to annoy SUV drivers.
I’m not trying to pick on Maggie Fox or the Alliance here, and I understand the need for advocacy organizations to put on their best game face in advance of the big fight. I just think it is important for folks to understand that there are legitimate reasons to be pessimistic about our prospects this year.
So at this point, less than a week in advance of the rollout of the bill, I’m with those those who see reason to be pessimistic: the math just doesn’t look good. I’ll have more on this in the coming days, but the basic situation is that you lose at least five Democratic votes and only have one reasonably certain Republican vote in Senator Graham. So you need to weaken the bill enough to pick up another four Republicans or so, without losing any additional Democratic votes in the process. Now, horse-trading like this in advance of a big vote is customary in Washington. But on this issue, at this time, I’m beginning to think the much-discussed ‘sweet spot’ might not exist.
Here are just a few of the land mines Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman have to watch out for as they try to cobble together 60 votes:
- A coalition of midwestern Democrats want state laws to be pre-empted as part of the deal, but Senator Boxer is opposed to the idea.
- Senators Landrieu, Graham, Webb, Warner, and others want coastal states to receive some of the revenues from expanded offshore drilling, but Senators Dorgan, Rockefeller, and Bingaman are strongly opposed to the idea.
- Senator Menendez is openly threatening to vote against the bill due to the expansion of offshore drilling.
- Senator Sanders has a host of other concerns, including state pre-emption and undue support for the nuclear power and coal industries, among others.
- It remains to be seen whether any Senators will draw a line in the sand over the issue, but several grassroots environmental organizations are prepared to pull their support if the legislation takes away the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
It is by no means impossible, and through some combination of giveaways to industry and arm twisting they may just get it done this year, but I don’t believe it will happen. Steven Pearlstein gives it a 50 percent chance and Senator Begich says 60 percent, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, as of now at least, the chance of passing climate legislation in the Senate and getting it reconciled with the House this year are no more than 25 percent.