Memo to swing Senators: You are going to vote on a bipartisan, economy-wide climate and clean energy jobs bill this spring. Get over it.

Memo to Politico: Do you really aspire to being nothing more than a new media version of the MSM — stenographers of the status quo?

The Politico wasn’t a finalist for the 2009 “Citizen Kane” award for non-excellence in climate journalism solely because it is (supposedly) a new media outlet.  But while the Politico offers itself as an antidote to the old media, this collection of political journalists has quickly established itself as more of the same.  Squared.

Indeed, because they focus on the political ping pong game, with little or no substantive analysis of the issues they write about in a large fraction of their pieces, they are in danger of becoming a poor man’s David Broder, the sultan of the status quo, stenographer of those centrists who are fatally uninformed about global warming.

For instance, in “Republicans push on ‘Climategate’,” the Politico focused strictly on how the right-wing anti-science crowd were using the purloined emails and didn’t even have a single comment from an actual scientist until the second page of the story — and that was science advisor Holdren from his (terrific) House testimony.   And they buried the most important  line:

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) dismissed the controversy as more of a public relations problem than a serious scientific meltdown.

An equally bad piece this month, “Have the greens failed?” sought to pass a negative judgment on the entire clean energy effort of the Obama administration and environmental advocates who support its goals — before Obama’s first year was up (!) and with no mention of many of the president’s remarkable achievements (!!), including for instance,  Obama will raise new car fuel efficiency standards to 35.5 mpg by 2015, which is the biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2.

This is standard old-media stuff — when the President’s poll numberes are in a down cycle, declare defeat and failure.  Since nobody would read the Politico for substantive analysis, which is done infinitely better at a number of major media outlets and blogs, the only possible reason to read the Politico is for the political analysis.  But why bother when that analysis is both so predictable and so influenced by the Politico’s center-right, status quo spin on everything?

Naturally, the Politico’s pundits have turned their substance-free, horserace-heavy attention to the bipartisan climate and clean energy bill, in an article titled “Senate Democrats to W.H.: Drop cap-and-trade.”  The piece is a perfect example of journalistic malpractice, intentionally misleading  from the very start — the headline and lede:

Bruised by the health care debate and worried about what 2010 will bring, moderate Senate Democrats are urging the White House to give up now on any effort to pass a cap-and-trade bill next year.

“I am communicating that in every way I know how,” says Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of at least half a dozen Democrats who’ve told the White House or their own leaders that it’s time to jettison the centerpiece of their party’s plan to curb global warming.

It’s laughable to open with a quote from Landrieu, who is from an oil state and on everyone’s list of a “probable no” vote (see E&E News: “At least 67 senators are in play” on climate bill; Murkowski open to voting for “cap and trade”).  It’s simply irresponsible for Politico to leave the impression that Landrieu’s statement is somehow news.  Indeed, readers who don’t follow this issue closely may think that because she voted for health reform, her statement here represent some sort of position reversal.  It doesn’t.

The only news here — which the substance-free Politico piece never mentions — is that Louisiana is probably the state that will be devastated the most by human-caused global warming, and if Landrieu does succeed in stopping climate action, then she will be remembered for nothing else by her constituents than creating beachfront property in Baton Rouge.  But that ain’t the Politico’s bag.

Indeed for a media outlet that prides itself on political analysis, the story gets worse:

The creation of an economy-wide market for greenhouse gas emissions is as the heart of the climate bill that cleared the House earlier this year. But with the health care fight still raging and the economy still hurting, moderate Democrats have little appetite for another sweeping initiative “” especially another one likely to pass with little or no Republican support.

No Republican support?  Do the writers and editors at the Politico not even read their own coverage, their own story?  The central effort to develop a bill is being led by a Republican right now,  Lindsey Graham (R-SC), as the story itself points out later.  In fact, if you ignored the analysis and stick to a more objective reading of the facts of the story you’ll get a very different picture.  As I’ll discuss in Part 2, if there’s a bill, as I expect, it’ll get 4 or more GOP votes.

“We need to deal with the phenomena of global warming, but I think it’s very difficult in the kind of economic circumstances we have right now,” said Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, who called passage of any economywide cap and trade “unlikely.”

That’s newsworthy.  It’s useful to know that Bayh, who has been a national hopeful and was seen as serious on big issues, doesn’t get either the issue or how serious President Obama is — see, for example, Washington Times: “Obama digs in on global warming.”

That said, Bayh is going to vote for the bill this spring.

And God forbid the Politico quote a moderate who doesn’t agree with their spin, say, Sen. Baucus (D-MT), who said just last month, “There’s no doubt that this Congress is going to pass climate change legislation.” Or what about Sen. Byrd stunner: “Coal Must Embrace The Future: The truth is that some form of climate legislation will likely become public policy because most American voters want a healthier environment.”

Indeed, the Politico goes straight back to its lame reporting:

“I’d just as soon see that set aside until we work through the economy,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “What we don’t want to do is have anything get in the way of working to resolve the problems with the economy.”

A nonsensical quote.  Nelson has always been the least likely Democrat to vote for a climate bill.  He’d oppose it no matter what the state of the economy.  The Politico reporters and editors know that.

“Climate change in an election year has very poor prospects,” added Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). “I’ve told that to the leadership.”

To date, climate change has been a poor perspective pretty much any year — but not only is Conrad going to vote for the bill this spring, he’s doubly wrong about the politics.  First off, there certainly not a greater chance of passing a climate bill in 2011, when the House and probably the Senate both have even fewer Democrats.

Second, as many political experts have noted (see here), environmental legislation often passes during an election year.  The Washington Times Washington Insight/Energy (sub. req’d) reported last month:

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Friday that, judging by the past, Congress’s climate change bill will likely pass within months of next November’s general election.

Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, said big legislation has historically passed within a few months of a major election and he envisions the same will be true for climate legislation.

“Welfare reform passed within months of an election back in the 90s, so did Medicare Part D “” it passed in September of an election year,” Daschle said on a conference call about clean energy and manufacturing. “There are a lot of other examples.”

“¦ Peter Molinaro, vice president of federal and state government affairs for Dow Chemical, said during the call that he agreed with Daschle’s predictions. Molinaro said that in the past, most major environmental legislation has also passed within 90 days on either side of a general election.

He added that ultimately the controversial legislation will pass just like the contentious amendments to the Clean Air Act did in 1990.

The climate legislation and Clean Air Act amendments are in “many ways a parallel “” high complexity, strong regional differences and way beyond partisan differences “” a lot of the same kinds of implications,” Molinaro said. “I don’t think there is anything novel about the situation we find ourselves in with [climate] legislation.

But let’s get back to the Politico, which marches on with its story line:

Asked about cap and trade last week, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said: “At this point I’d like to see a complete bill, but we have to be realistic.”

A classic ambiguous quote.  Kudos to the Politico for running it without getting any elaboration.

Realism suggests that the Senate is going to take up the climate bill in the spring, just as the Majority leader said last month — see Reid: “I think if we do it right, the energy bill, the climate bill can be very, very job productive” “” plans floor debate on bipartisan bill “sometime in the spring.”

Back to the Politico’s center-right spin:

Moderate House Democrats who voted in favor of the cap-and-trade bill just before the July 4 recess came under fire back home, and Republicans have vowed to make the issue a key line of attack during next year’s elections.

Yes, well, bring it on.  Seriously, you’d never know from the Politico that every major poll done in the last six months shows that the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill is a political winner, particularly with swing voters in swing states:

No, the Politico is stuck in its story line:

Some Democrats would prefer to deny them that target.

“I’d prefer to do energy because I think you could get a really broad consensus on a lot of energy legislation,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

Again, voting on a bill to preserve and protect clean air and clean water for our children while increasing energy security and generating millions of clean energy jobs does not create a “target” for Democrats.  Failing to act, however, might.  And again, given that the Politico just used an old quote from Durbin, you’d think they could have bothered to note that the Arkansas News Bureau reported the real news last week about Senate moderate Pryor — he is open to a market-based solution to set prices for carbon with a shrinking cap:

LITTLE ROCK “” Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said today he may rethink his position on a proposed cap-and-trade program in light of the recent Environmental Protection Agency ruling that greenhouse gas emissions are a threat to the public health.

Also today, the chairman and CEO of Entergy Corp. told an audience in Little Rock the EPA has sent a signal to Congress to act on climate change, and U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln said she has concerns about the agency’s ruling.

“I’ve always been reluctant on cap and trade, but it (the EPA ruling) might put that in a different light,” Pryor said in a conference call with reporters. “I’ll just have to look at that and really spend some time reflecting on that and talking to not just colleagues but talking to people who really understand this and see if that does change my view on cap-and-trade.”

… Pryor said he would rather see regulation of carbon emissions come from Congress than the EPA.

“These are big decisions, decisions that affect our entire economy. We’re probably better off having Congress look at this rather than the EPA,” he said.

But that doesn’t fit the Politico’s spin.

Finally, the Politico does get to the big news of the last couple of months:

“We’ve got to keep them together because they go together,” said Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who infuriated liberals with his opposition to the public option in the health care bill but who’s trying to keep cap and trade alive in a bipartisan climate bill he’s drafting with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

The White House remains firmly behind an economywide cap-and-trade system, which would curb greenhouse gas emissions and create a market for polluters to buy and sell carbon allowances.

“We think that a cap-and-trade mechanism is the best way to achieve the most cost-effective reductions,” a senior administration official told reporters last week.

Precisely — Carol Browner strongly backs economywide, bipartisan cap-and-trade bill: “Slicing and dicing isn’t going to work. It’s time to finally have comprehensive energy legislation in this country.”

Even with this, though, the Politico veers off course:

But Kerry raised eyebrows last week when he seemed to hint at some flexibility over the issue.

“I can’t tell you the method or the means or amount by which we might price carbon,” he told reporters in Copenhagen. “We haven’t resolved that issue yet.”

A move away from cap and trade would bitterly disappoint the environmental community and many powerful utility companies, which have lobbied hard for the system.

C’mon Politico.   Even the original 12/16 story on this in The Hill quickly posted an explanation from Kerry:

Update: Kerry clarified his comments during a gaggle with reporters after his on-camera press conference, according to a Kerry aide in Copenhagen. “I’m just telling you there’s going to be a movement next year to get something done on this, and I think it’s going to include some kind of trading mechanism,” Kerry said, according to the aide. Kerry added that there are “plenty of ways to do it.”

Anyone who talks to Kerry for even a few seconds on this issue knows that he has stopped using the term “cap-and-trade,” but still strongly supports a price-based trading mechanism.   But, no, the Politico simply have to push its storyline at the expense of its credibility.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Whereas the center-right Politico lets its biases and desired narrative undermine the accuracy of its reporting, I strive for a much higher level of political realism at Climate Progress.  That’s why, for instance, you got stories here on how natural gas was becoming a game changer in the climate and energy arena months before the MSM focused on the story, for instance, even though natural gas isn’t as uber-green as energy efficiency, solar, wind and so on.

As I’ve said all along, it is entirely possible that the Congress does not pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation next year.  But the odds still favor it.  We clearly have two of the three necessary ingredients.  First, the President is fully on board — “Coming to Copenhagen commits Obama to getting the bipartisan climate and clean energy bill passed.”  If you think Obama is going to walk away from this bill, you aren’t paying attention.

Second, we have a tri-partisan team working with the administration to make it happen — see Graham, Kerry, Lieberman embrace market-based system to cut carbon pollution “in the range of 17%” by 2020 and 80%+ by 2050 “” bipartisan backing for Obama’s Copenhagen pledge.

The big unknown is whether the anti-science ideologues can create an untenable climate for any serious bipartisanship at all through their disinformation and demagogueing.  If so, then we won’t see the 4+ “gettable” GOP votes for the Graham-Kerry-Lieberman bill.  It is my estimation that the anti-science crowd has less than 50-50 chance of succeeding, but it would be a mistake to underestimate them.

It is up to those of us who are driven by the science to outdo them.  This article has gone on long enough, so I will discuss how the bill will play out — and why the Politico piece is cause for more optimism than the Politico can admit — in a later post.

23 Responses to Memo to swing Senators: You are going to vote on a bipartisan, economy-wide climate and clean energy jobs bill this spring. Get over it.

  1. Joe1347 says:

    Thanks for the upbeat story. Most of the recent negative news has made it difficult to keep the faith.

  2. Leif says:

    #2 Right on Joe. Your the MAN. Take it to them. Most of all have fun.

  3. Ben Lieberman says:

    Politico reporters apparently have no interest in any of the actual issues connected with climate change, and they do love those horse race stories, especially when they can pretend that they drive events.

    It is also predictable that Senator Landrieu would complain about having to take up cap-and-trade, though it remains extraordinary that Louisiana’s senators would show such apparent lack of interest in the threat climate change poses to their state. Senator Landrieu’s web site does not mention the environment as an issue and discussion of coastal protection leaves out any reference to the threat posed by climate change to those very coasts.

    What is also disturbing is the desire to use health care as an excuse to avoid dealing with any other issues. Apparently some Senators would have us believe that working on one difficult issue should give them a pass on having to take up anything else that might require hard work.

  4. T Lehman says:

    This comes as a surprise. It makes sense if some are worried about re-election.

  5. Robert Brulle says:

    Great blog. I was misled by the Politico story.
    Robert J. Brulle PhD
    Drexel University

    [JR: Thanks. I don’t understand what the Politico is doing, really. Why can’t they just do a straight story? The truth is plenty interesting, even if not black and white.]

  6. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Joe-

    I thought that this was some sort of political hit piece, but couldn’t put my finger on why. Of course, most media is biased these days, in some cases such as this very subtly and apparently deliberately, as you point out.

    One of the Republican’s best tricks is just to label something dead on arrival, which often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    But maybe not this time. Reality intrudes occasionally on politics, and even most Senators appear to have a line beyond which they will not willingly go. For Boxer, Kerry, Graham, Leiberman, and others, the fate of the planet does appear to be more important than politics as usual.

    Senator Inhofe aside, of course.

    [JR: Yes, “self-fulfilling prophesy” is the greatest risk from constant media miscoverage.]

  7. Jim says:

    A tendentious smackdown, Joe. I groaned when I read the piece.

    Lisa Lerer gets her facts wrong. She also misrepresented the CLEAR act, which she says “drops” cap and trade, when it in fact retains cap and trade and applies it to upstream fossil fuel producers.

    Also, Landrieu is the only person quoted as saying that she thinks it should be dropped. All of the others simply comment on the legislation’s prospects or talk about how much they like the energy-only bill.

    How come I’m unemployed and she’s a big time Politico journalist?

  8. Jim says:

    Excuse me, the Politico piece, Joe. Not yours.

    This is one of the better blog posts I’ve read in a while.

  9. Todd says:

    Any Republican that votes for this crap should be shot.

  10. Sable says:

    Thanks for the analysis, I too was misled by this story when I saw it this morning. It’s amazing how important context is….hmm, reminds me of another recent media whipped non-story.

  11. Any Democrat who votes against this bill should be shot.

  12. In an expanding economy and healthy world, politics is easy.

    But when things are in decline the best that any political group can do is choose the least bad path. The political tactic of the minority party is to enable or await these inevitable declines and just blame and criticize those in power. They need not ever contribute to the well being of the people. This works to retain minority power because it absorbs the discontent and excuses them from any responsibility. But it also works to subvert civility.

  13. Dan B says:

    We’re entering a new energy economy.

    Objections to the horseless carriage were universal. They were smelly and frightened the horses.

    Horses were smelly and frightened children – my uncle’s teeth were knocked out by one of my grandfather’s horses.

    We are entering a new energy economy – kicking and screaming, or fully aligned, like China, and possibly India. It’s not that we’re going to get on the bandwagon or not, it’s WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET ON THE BANDWAGON? WILL THE CHINESE EAT OUR LUNCH AND OUR ECONOMY? WILL WE, OR THEY, BE BOLD ENOUGH?

    Will they or we be bold and visionary enough?

    Will we be driving the coolest, sexy, electric cars? Will we be building the best “energy network”? Will it test the limits of Alternating Current or Direct Current?

    Will we transform our economy so our hard work and money stay in our neighborhoods?

    Will our laws, bureaucrats, and regulators (policy) reward the ancient fossil fuel economy or the coming economy? Will the future belong to China or the US?


  14. mauri pelto says:

    I knew I could count on solid analysis of the pessimistic view of climate legislation. Thanks.

  15. mark says:

    Thank you very much. You are doing an outstanding job.

  16. mike roddy says:

    Very informative, as always, but you seem to tread lightly on the serious problem we have with corruption in the Senate. I don’t think it’s so much anti science demagogues spreading misinformation. More like greed crazed whores, mostly in the Republican Party, who click their heels and salute when someone from the oil or coal industry waves hundred dollar bills in their faces.

  17. SolarMom says:

    Phew! You restored my faith this morning. Thanks, Joe.

  18. Eric says:


  19. Alex A. says:

    I have written to my senators several times, and I guess I need to send them another letter. Nate Silver (of “538”) gives my senators 90%+ probability of supporting cap and trade, so I’m not terribly worried about their support.

    Senators do listen to their constituents. Please take the time to send your senators a letter, or at least an email, reminding them that time is not on our side, and that you support climate legislation. Remind your senators that filabustering environmental legislation will not look good in the history books.

    If you live in Arizona, tell Sen. McCain to stop pandering to the Tea-Partyists and stand up for what we know he really believes.

    Let’s not get drowned out by lobbyists and anti-tax delusionists.

  20. Molnar says:

    I think your characterization of Politico as “center right” misses the mark. I believe Politico was created in the first place to be a (thinly disguised) organ of the Republican party, and the modern Republican party is far right by any reasonable definition. The fact that you quote the Moonie Times as a relatively honest broker of information says it all.

  21. a dood says:

    Very informative, as always, but you seem to tread lightly on the serious problem we have with corruption in the Senate. I don’t think it’s so much pseudo-science demagogues spreading misinformation. More like greed crazed whores, mostly in the Democrat Party, who click their heels and salute when someone from the carbon credit industry waves hundred dollar bills in their faces.

  22. KG says:

    Very good write up…I would add another angle..national security! Sen. Graham understands this fact and please see the following article from Yemen..the new hub for terrorism. If most of the GOP right can not accept the science or want to ensure the status quo, are n’t they concerned about national security and new terrorist hot beds like Yemen! Would n’t Senators McCain, Lieberman and Graham who care for both climate change (or atleast shown support)and national security lead this charge in educating the less informed GOP senators? We need to put Gen Jim Jones and Secretary Gates to this task too!

    See article below

    Yemen’s draught caused by climate change

    Hamed Thabet

    SANA’A, April 20 — “The climate changes during the last few years and especially this year is a real concern for Yemen, particularly if the frequency of precipitation events diminish, putting rainfall and agriculture in peril and lead to a catastrophic drought,” said Anwar Abdulaziz, head of the Climate Change Unit in the General Authority of Environment Preservation.

    “Every year the rain season starts at the beginning of March, and now Yemen is in the end of April and there is still no rain. This means that Yemen is truly affected by the climate changes,” said Abdulaziz.

    Though his agency has yet to complete studies on exact drought percentage increase, he is sure that this year and the next year will be difficult for Yemen because of the lack of rain.

    According to the National Council for the Climate, there has been an increase in average temperatures in Sana’a over the last 20 years, though they do not have the exact percentage due to a lack of research. The expectation is that cities like Sana’a and Ibb will face cloudless skies and will cause more temperature rises, adds Abdulaziz.

    For his part, the Director of the General Authority for Environment Preservation, Mahmoud Shudaiwa, pointed out that water and agriculture are the sectors that will be most affected by climate change in Yemen.

    From 1999 to 2001, the General Authority of Environment Preservation prepared a program in order to study the climate changes in some of the areas in Yemen. The study used this information to recreate the environment dating back 25 years and to predict the future of the environment for the next 30 years.

    “The main problem was that we did not have a study for all Yemen, we just took some areas and sectors as examples like a study on water change in Abyan delta, in the agriculture sector on potato and wheat production in Mareb, Sayoun, Ibb and Dhamar,” said Abdulaziz. “Also, we focused on 10 kilometers of the coastal environment in the Red Sea next to Al-Hodeidah.”

    Some simple solutions have been suggested after the study, as for example; partition and breakers for waves. The rise in the level of sea water will cause coastal flooding in many places: Al-Hodidah will be in danger of sinking, like, some roads near the sea, some buildings, schools, and part of the port.

    The Minister of Water and Environment, Abdul Rahman Fadhl Al-Eryani, confirmed in a statement that Yemen has prepared a national program for adaptation to climate change and received advice and consultations from the international experts so that the national program will be consistent with similar climate change programs throughout the world.

    “This meeting came at a time when several scientific reports and studies confirmed that climate change has become a reality that involves taking a serious stand by the incumbent bodies to put an end to this problem that threatens life,” said Al-Eryani. He further stressed the importance of following the United Nations’ convention on climate change so that it can offer the required support, especially given that Yemen will likely suffer financially from these changes that directly impact agriculture and water.

    The late rainfall is already hurting the agricultural production that Yemeni farmers depend on to make their livelihood. Yemen is one of the least-developed and poorest countries in the Arab world.

    There must be some cooperation with all sectors that are responsible in the study of climate change, such as the General Authority of Environment Preservation, the Ministry of Water and the Ministry of Agriculture, according to Abdulaziz.

    Although the staff working in this sector is qualified according to his or specialization, the main problem is that, “We do not have enough funds to continue our job as all the support comes to us from non-governmental organizations,” said Abdulaziz.

    “Variable rainfall patterns, water scarcity, decreasing water quality, and worsening air quality are likely to compromise the supply of fresh water and affect public health and more likely lead to challenging life conditions. Globally, water scarcity already affects four out of every 10 people. A lack of water and poor water quality can compromise hygiene and health. This increases the risk of diarrhea, which kills approximately 1.8 million people every year,” according to the latest WHO report.

  23. David B. Benson says:

    Goodby, Yeman.