Looks like no Senate vote on climate and clean energy bill until at least November — thank goodness!

As I have said many times “Obama can get a better climate bill in 2010” “” although that is true only if he and Congress have a coherent strategy to do just that (which at this point, they don’t, see below). the CBO has made clear that health care reform is tougher than climate action (also see here) and since conservatives see blood in the water (see TP’s Inhofe: If GOP Can ‘Stall’ Or ‘Block’ Health Care Reform, It Will Be ‘A Huge Gain’ For The 2010 Elections) and since the  Senate will try to do health care first and since tortoise-like Senate floor debates are a lot longer than hare-like House debates, it is all but impossible to imagine the Senate vote on a climate bill before November.

And I’d say it’s at least 50-50 the vote isn’t until December or January, which would put a final bill, conferenced and passed again by both House and Senate, on Obama’s desk maybe in March.  That should not be a surprise to CP readers.

No hurry.  Right now, the House bill starts its first cap in 2012, but in any case the cap doesn’t actually start to bite for several more years after that, so it is far more important that the one shot we get in the Senate is our best shot.  And we need time for several reasons:

  1. Senators just won’t vote for a bill written by House members.  Not invented here.  Also, Majority Leader Reid said the bill is going to be pieced together from several committees, some of whom are very actively focused on health care.  So no bill capable of getting 60 votes currently exists and won’t until late September at the earliest.
  2. Up until the last week or two, the deniers and dirty energy bunch had been eating our lunch politicking on the climate bill. We’re finally getting organized but we need all of August and September just to catch up.
  3. Obama needs some sort of serious announcement from China that it is going sharply change its business as usual emissions path (see “Does a serious bill need action from China?“).  The good news is that the Administration has been pursuing that aggressively (see “Exclusive: Have China and the U.S. been holding secret talks aimed at a climate deal this fall?“).  Now I’m told by a non-government source who spends a lot of time talking to the Chinese about climate and clean energy that China is prepared to make such an announcement, but probably not until Obama visits the country after the APEC meeting in mid-November.  If this is true, then administration and Senate leaders should delayed a final Senate vote until after that.
  4. The next stage of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen the first two weeks in December is very unlikely to result in a final deal, but it is likely to move the ball forward.  If so, it might be better to have the Senate vote afterwards.  Right now, the fence-sitting Senators are looking at the international scene through the lens of a dozen years of stagnation.  It seriously undermines potential support for U.S. action.  Some genuine progress at the international level could give Senators the kind of pivotal and historical role they see themselves as asserting.

I have also argued that the Obama administration needs to take its case for climate and clean energy action straight to the public, just as it is now doing for health care.  After all, a 2007 report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded: “The Bush administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.”  That disinformation and a status quo media have left roughly half of the public — the conservatives and conservative-leaning half — with the impression that global warming isn’t real and/or isn’t primarily human-caused and/or not a serious threat to Americans (see here).  Even so, a major survey finds overwhelming public support for action on global warming and clean energy and Americans support greenhouse gas regulation even if it could “substantially” raise energy prices.

So the public just needs to be energized.  As I wrote in my January Salon piece:

The Obama team needs to spend a considerable amount of time giving public speeches, holding informal meetings with key opinion makers, researching and publicizing major reports on the high cost of inaction and the relatively low cost of solutions. That simply can’t be done over the next few months, when the administration’s focus must be “” and the media’s focus will be “” on the grave economic crisis”¦.

Ironically, that also can’t be done over the next two months, since team Obama is focusing their messaging effort on health care (see Obama: “Those who are betting against this happening this year are badly mistaken,” the Democratic National Committee this week began running TV ads targeting many wavering senators).

Even worse, I’m told by multiple sources that the political operatives in the White House have bought into the ecoAmerica bullshit that we mustn’t explain to the public the serious threat posed by climate change (see Messaging 101b: EcoAmerica’s phrase ‘our deteriorating atmosphere’ isn’t going to replace ‘global warming’ “” and that’s a good thing).  And bullshit it is (see Mark Mellman must read on climate messaging: “A strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action” “” ecoAmerica “could hardly be more wrong”).  That’s a key reason Obama didn’t even show up for the single biggest climate science announcement of his administration — the report on U.S. climate impacts — thus negating any impact it might have had on the debate (see here).

Of course, the White House doesn’t have any problem telling the public and the media day after day the myriad catastrophic consequences that await the country if we don’t act on health care (millions more without health care, a bankrupt economy, exploding premiums).  No, it’s only talking about the myriad catastrophic consequences that await the country if we don’t act on climate that is verboten.  That means most of the messaging will be on clean energy and jobs — which is a great message, one I’ve pushed for two decades now — but it hardly justifies or motivates a 42% reduction in CO2 emissions in two decades and an 83% reduction in four decades, along with all the extensive accompanying regulations.

Frankly, it is an insult to the public — and to members of Congress — to pretend that the overwhelming reason we are doing this bill is clean energy and jobs.

UPDATE:   We are doing this for two inseparable reasons, as anybody who reads CP — or even this blog post — knows.  We are doing this to transform our economy away from a catastrophically unsustainable emissions path onto a sustainable one and to create millions of green jobs.  But in fact the two arguments are inseparable, a point I’ve made many times — see “Climate competitiveness 2: When the global Ponzi scheme collapses (circa 2030), the only jobs left will be green.”

So, for now, we have truly lousy messaging.  And after the healthcare reform debate we might have only half a message.  If it stays that way, Obama still has a serious chance of getting a climate bill delivered to his desk in 2010 — if the four factors listed above play out favorably — but sadly it won’t be “better” than what we have now.

Still, a month is a lifetime in politics, so many things could change by late fall.  Obama might fail in health care, which many think would seriously hurt chances for a climate bill.  Or we might have a record low in Arctic ice or record global temperatures (see NCDC: Second hottest June on record “” and once El Nino really kicks in, expect global temperatures “to threaten previous record highs”).

I’m now regularly reading to my daughter the tortoise and hare story.  The moral is “slow but steady wins the race.”  Let’s hope so.

16 Responses to Looks like no Senate vote on climate and clean energy bill until at least November — thank goodness!

  1. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    OK; it appears we will do far too little far too late. So I have a few questions.
    How high do I have to be to avoid the Hydrogen Sulphide?
    Does the last person living own the world?

    Do the politicians have a clue what the worst case scenario really is?

  2. Phil Eisner says:

    Slow but steady has already lost the race! We had better get ready for climate disaster.

  3. paulm says:

    You get a mention here joe…

    Inside coal industry meeting: Global warming just a scare

  4. Jeff Huggins says:

    Yes, Well, But . . .

    Better to do it right, and with success, than to rush it, mush it, and potentially fail. I agree.

    But, I have two thoughts:

    First, this is the first I’ve heard about this notion of playing it soft with the public on the climate change problem itself and. thus, on the central reason why we need to address it. That is such an insulting notion, and it’s highly unwise too. Motivation doesn’t come in just one flavor, in just one degree, to just one depth. Jobs and the economy are important, and are very helpful reasons to take action, but (even so) they aren’t the main reasons, the most urgent, the most moving, or the deepest. People who think that jobs and the economy are the main reasons, and the most energizing, either don’t understand the REAL problem we face, and its gravity, or have an incredibly low assessment of the public.

    Second, if what you (Joe) say is correct, I must ask (and I guess I must ask anyway), why do we seem to have such babies as Senators? And, what happened to the definition of ‘leadership’? Does ‘leadership’ now mean “hesitant partisan you-go-first followership”?

    We should, and need to, and ought to, lead the way on this. From a moral standpoint, we should take steps to address the problem, proactively. And also, practically speaking, we won’t have the credibility to encourage others to address the problem if we don’t attack it ourselves. And, from an economic standpoint, it will help immensely for us to develop, implement, and commercialize the relevant technologies and technology improvements quickly. Indeed, there’s not a reason to play the “you go first” strategy unless one is a hesitant, scared, spoiled, unwise baby. (Have I been clear on that?)

    What happened to leadership? What happened to responsibility? All I can say is, if one of my senators or representatives from here votes against fixing the climate change problem, I’m done with her/him.

    Cheers for now,


  5. Steve Johnson says:

    You’re absolutely right. The politicians need to be honest and even mention what subsequent job losses and economic damage are likely to be.

    For the kind of cuts required they are going to be fairly large. People need to be told that their x-boxes and computers must be turned off. They need to be told they are going to be poorer in the short term.

    It’s just no longer good enough to pretend that jobs won’t be lost and that even some state will be seriously affected. But it needs to be done.

    But then they have to say that these jobs lost and other material damage are needed to save the planet. It’s a pity that none of the politicians are as honest as you on this issue.

  6. Rick says:

    Steve wrote “The politicians need to be honest…. People need to be told that their x-boxes and computers must be turned off. They need to be told they are going to be poorer in the short term.”

    no politician I know of is going to be prepared to send out that message – it’s political suicide. (well I can see Joe Biden saying that, but then nobody takes him seriously anyway)

  7. Brett Jason says:

    Let’s see. First it was a desperate push to get it passed by the House so the Senate could vote on it as quickly as possible. But then the Senate decided they could wait until September. Then they pushed it off until October. Now Joe is telling us it will be November or December or even later?

    Later? That means next year. And next year is an election year. That’s bad news for the Climate Bill. If it isn’t passed this year, its chances of ever being passed drop way down as the coming election will be on the minde of every Blue Dogs, Moderate Republican and fence-sitter. The politics of reality will make them far less likely to take a chance on voting for it.

    No hurry? Say what? Time is not on the side of this fragile Democratic coalition or the Climate Change Bill. As a political reality, it is now or never.

    Where is the President? Why is he allowing this potentially deadly delay to happen? Where is ex-senator and now Vice President Joe Biden? What is Harry Reid thinking?! The Senate has got Franken on board now, and now is the time to do the deed.

    [JR: First, there is no Senate bill. Second, Prez says health care goes first. So that takes the vote until November I would think. I personally don’t think it much matters whether a vote is in November or January — it is going to be the same tough vote. And remember, only 1/3 of Senators are up for reelection in 2010.]

  8. Peter Sinclair says:

    “People need to be told that their x-boxes and computers must be turned off. They need to be told they are going to be poorer in the short term.”

    If I were an industry plant, trolling climate blogs to plant negative messages, I would have crafted one like this. This is the caricature that the climate denial industry seeks to promote, and has been successful in some cases.
    It is not, however, remotely related to reality.

  9. Mike#22 says:

    We shouldn’t equate efficiency with poverty. That is the carbon club’s message.

    For example, the average American uses about 3500 kwhs/year electricity at their homes. Every day, 10 kwhs/person at home. (twice that is consumed in commercial and industrial activities).

    Most of that 10 kwh is just wasted; it doesn’t make people any more or less poor (except obviously with the electric bill). It is just stuff in standby, old white goods, tungsten lighting, ancient wall warts.

    Buildings and vehicles, about the same. They could use two thirds less energy without too much effort. It would take five or ten years of upgrades to both the equipment and the user attitude.

  10. john says:

    Steve Johnson:

    X-boxes etc. don’t need to be turned off — that’s old style Dick Cheney thinking. They simply need to be powered with job-creating clean, renewable energy — home grown in the USA.

    Throwing up strawman arguments about deprivation etc. is bogus. There will be some limted economic pain — Exxon, Peabody Coal and a few others will suffer some. You know, the one’s who’ve been extorting cash from us for decades, now.

    Oh, well. I guess we can survive that.

    We can’t, however, survive global warming. So drop your sophist BS, please.

  11. Uosdwis says:

    What are you talking about? They adjourn at the end of October and don’t show up again until a week into January. There will be no November vote.

    [JR: Who says?]

  12. “People need to be told that their x-boxes and computers must be turned off. They need to be told they are going to be poorer in the short term”

    In reality, it might slow economic growth by one-tenth of one percent per year. People won’t be poorer. They will get richer at a very slightly slower rate – so slight that it won’t be noticable.

  13. Ric Merritt says:

    Dictation error: “negating any packed” should be “negating any impact”.

    [JR: Doh!]

  14. Darryl says:

    Joe, you say “it is an insult to the public — and to members of Congress — to pretend that the overwhelming reason we are doing this bill is clean energy and jobs” and then you post yesterday about Pelosi being a knight in shining armour.


    Didn’t you hear Pelosi’s fist-pumping rallying cry, “This Bill is about 4 things: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! Let’s vote for Jobs!”

    [JR: Again, your brief quote is quite irrelevant. Pelosi has remained clear in her messaging about the dire nature of the climate situation. My remarks were directed at the White House political spinmeisters.]

  15. Did you notice that drought and starvation in southern Madagascar were mentioned in the national news on one of the old 3 networks, I don’t remember which one, and ATTRIBUTED TO GLOBAL WARMING?!?!?!?! If the MSM do that a few more times, it will make a difference.

  16. MSuoz says:

    Pisses me off that the first thing that shows up when I type “climate bill support action” (or something like that) into is a paid advertising site,, that claims the bill will destroy millions of American jobs… where did they get their info?