Stop the presses! (Stop the servers?) Nancy Sutley: Obama to stake political prestige on passing US climate bill

Barack Obama is prepared to stake his own political prestige on getting climate change legislation through Congress, and would be willing to intervene directly to ensure passage of America’s first law to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming.

Nancy Sutley, who is pivotal in setting Obama’s green agenda as the chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told the Guardian that the president is ready to use his considerable personal popularity to rally Congress behind a sweeping climate change bill.

If it’s true, this is the story of the month, from the UK Guardian (audio interview of the reporter is here).

Only President Obama can change the political dynamic and get an acceptable bill through Congress, particularly the Senate, in the next 12 months (see “Reid: Senate to wait for House bill, effectively delaying final bill until 2010. Here’s why that should be good news“).

If Obama is prepared to put his political prestige on the line for climate and clean energy legislation, as Sutley says, then its chances of passage increase sharply.  I have confidence that Obama will do so because, since his election, all of his major appointments, actions, and speeches reveal that he gets it — by which I mean he understands that future generations will inevitably judge all 21st-century presidents on just two issues:  global warming and the clean energy transition. If the world doesn’t stop catastrophic climate change “” Hell and High Water “” then all Presidents, indeed, all of us, will be seen as failures and rightfully so (see “The clean energy FDR: Obama’s first 100 days make “” and may remake “” history“).

The Guardian story notes:

When the bill is further along in the legislative process there are some things where it may make a difference in expressing a strong view,” Sutley said in an interview. “What [Obama] has been saying consistently is that he wants a bill and that this represents a very important step forward. ”

Congress is now working against a six-month deadline to pass a sweeping package of environmental legislation through both houses before the world gathers at Copenhagen in December for talks on a global climate change treaty.

Not quite.  Both houses of Congress don’t need to pass it by December — and they aren’t going to.

The House Energy Committee, which is weighed heavily towards coal and oil state Democrats, was the first major obstacle for the climate change bill, and Obama drew on his political capital help get it passed.

The president invited key members of Congress to the White House to make a personal appeal for the bill. Those at the meeting say the pitch was crucial to securing the support of wavering Democrats.

Obama would be ready to take further gambles on his personal popularity, Sutley said.

She said he was unlikely to intervene in the near future to shore up targets for emission reductions — already criticised by some environmentalists as failing to go as far as dictated by the science to prevent a catastrophic rise in temperature. However, the president may feel compelled to step in to shield consumers from higher electricity bills. “He has talked about the idea that we have to think about consumers,” she said.

Hmm.  Hard to know exactly what to make of that last paragraph, since the bill already shields consumers from higher electricity bills by explicit design (see “Exclusive report: Preventing windfalls for polluters but preserving prices “” Waxman-Markey gets it right with its allocations to regulated utilities“).

Memo to Nancy Sutley:  When discussing major legislation with the media — do not reveal the President’s bottom line, as that would tend to weaken his position in negotiation.

I’m going to take the optimistic view that some combination of the reporter and Sutley are confused and not up-to-date on the bill. That said, I don’t think the President is going to get involved in negotiating the intricacies of individual components of the bill.  That is a job for others — not Sutley, but most likely Carol Browner, who oversees energy and climate at the White House.

In any case, the big take away is that Obama is invested in the process of getting this bill through Congress — and that means it is likely to happen.

Note:  Yes, the phrase “Stop the Presses!” will soon be obsolete — and rather ironic for the dying print media.  If someone has a better idea then “Stop the Servers!” let me know.

5 Responses to Stop the presses! (Stop the servers?) Nancy Sutley: Obama to stake political prestige on passing US climate bill

  1. Pat Richards says:

    Well… Duh.

    This and passing a Health Care bill that really does help the 50 million Americans with no health care access whatsoever are the two pillars of his Presidency. Failure to pass one of them would seriously damage him. Failure to pass both would finish him.

    Of course, if either bill is gutted by so-called “politically necessary compromise” to the point where neither actually does anyone much good, then he may be able to claim bragging rights but will have absolutely no street cred left.

    [JR: I too view this as Duh — except that it is now public from a high level White House official, which is presumably meant to send a message.]

  2. hapa says:

    that would be behavior befitting a tight ecological schedule.

    (“erase the servers”?)

  3. Rick Covert says:


    President Obama stated durign the campaignk “”We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains…” President Obama, by his actions, is allowing mountain top removal in Applachia. Here’s what progressive activist Jim Hightower said in a commentary, “On May 15, it was announced that Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency had quietly approved 42 of 48 new Appalachian mining permits sought by the coal barons.” How can you really take his word seriously

  4. James Newberry says:

    If the Clean Energy bill ends up encouraging exploitation of additional quantities of the fossil fuel natural gas along with nuclear power then the president will be a failure. After citing a long list of intractible problems with nuclear during his campaign, the president is now saying “we must use nuclear power.” He is already half wrong on energy policy. Reminds me of the bait and switch concerning carbon dioxide regulation of the previous administration. Has anyone found a “new” source of “cheap, clean” natural gas by the way? Converting hundreds of power plants would preclude those financial resources from use in what we must truly do.

  5. President Obama may have a convention worthy of its name to pin his reputation to.

    Today we saw the pincer action of G77 and China at its best.

    On the one side we have the provisions of the Convention.

    Article 4. paragraph 4 says “The developed country Parties and other developed Parties included in Annex II shall also assist the developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting costs of adaptation to those adverse effects.”

    The Annex II parties who must assist the developing country parties that are particularly vulnerable, are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, European Economic Community, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America. Turkey was deleted from Annex II by an amendment that entered into force 28 June 2002, pursuant to decision 26/CP.7 adopted at COP.7.

    On the other side we have the vulnerable developing countries themselves.

    The delegate from China today reminded the negotiating parties at Bonn who are working on the text for a climate agreement at Copenhagen, that with 1.3 million people China is an extremely vulnerable developing country party.

    He then carried on working out what these costs were going to be, and reminded the other delegates in Bonn that these costs needed to be financed in ways which were not yet clear, but in case they did not include any of the proposals on the table thus far.

    The question that comes to mind immediately is: could these costs be the financial ruin of these already highly indebted countries listed in Annex II including the USA?

    And could it be that in fact these costs and the consequent economic collapse of these developed countries will also cause their emissions to collapse?

    Suddenly, after feeling hopelessly unable to influence the mitigation actions of developed countries, there is a glimmer of hope that emissions will come down by a different, circuitous route, but an effective route none the less.

    We can achieve mitigation without raising a finger. And as the delegate from Russia pointed out, it is imperative that we do reduce emissions, because there will otherwise be a great flood of actions required to deal with national and international migration / and planned relocation of climate refugees.

    The US delegate pointed out that ‘environmental refugee’ was a term fraught with legal difficulties. In fact hitherto it has seemed that the USA’s efforts have been mostly concentrating on how to say “legally binding” in as many different ways as possible without cutting emissions.

    But now we find we don’t care. Emissions may not have to be forced down, they may just collapse because these developed country parties are finally utterly overextended.

    The institutional arrangements including how to figure out how to get the means to enhance the implementation of adaptation action in developing country Parties are probably going to be organised through

    “an adaptation committee or a subsidiary body for adaptation to enhance the implementation of adaptation action in developing country Parties through, inter alia: providing advice and technical support to Parties; developing mechanisms for the development and transfer of adaptation technologies; planning, organizing, coordinating, monitoring and evaluating international actions on adaptation to climate change, including on the means of implementation.”

    The committee or subsidiary body may very well suggest a new financing mechanism under Article 11, and the GEF and World Bank that were the interim bodies in charge of funding will probably be sacked. In any case there will not be incremental costing in adaptation, nor will there be a need for global benefit, as the delegate from Cambodia pointed out.

    Tomorrow we look forward to the discussion on financing. The G77 and China and AOSIS may well have some very useful proposals up their sleeves . Their plans are bold and beautiful to behold.

    Thus observers tomorrow and in the coming days should pay careful attention to suggestions that may now be made for getting hold of all the remaining AAUs for the use or retirement or sale by developing country parties, as these are also required as a means to enhance the implementation of adaptation action in developing country Parties. This will finally close the circle, in the context of not exceeding 1250 GtCO2e emissions in this century of which 12 x 50 GtCO2e is already used up in the period 2000 to 2012.

    It appears that developing countries have a climate convention that protects their interests after all.

    So if Obama has his reputation staked on this, it will be truely a reputation worth having, though whether his delegation contributed to to achieving it will be a different question. if they do not obstruct it it will be to Obama’s lasting credit indeed.