Is there going to be a bipartisan climate, energy security, clean air and clean energy jobs bill this year?

Graham remains “hopeful after discussing this matter with conservation groups, businesses, and Senate colleagues we can be successful this year.” Nelson and Landrieu (!) open to comprehensive bill

UPDATE: The Energy Guardian (subs. req’d) aka the Washington Times reports tonight that Graham told reporters, “I’m not going to ask the environmental community to accept a compromise that doesn’t, in a serious way, deal with our carbon pollution problem.”

I wouldn’t want to mislead readers into thinking that it will be easy to get a climate bill this year.  Fundamentally, the politicians simply don’t understand the urgency on the climate science side, and they don’t understand it is a winning political issue with both progressives and independents in every single poll — unlike, say, health care reform (see “It’s all about Independents “” and Independence“).

Having botched progressive strategy and messaging for a year, who can expect a sudden turn-around?  And so even the NY Times editorial board, which makes a persuasive “Case for a Climate Bill,” starts:

The conventional wisdom is that the chances of Congress passing a bill that puts both a cap and a price on greenhouse gases are somewhere between terrible and nil.

That is indeed the conventional wisdom inside the DC Beltway.  But the NYT immediately follows that with

President Obama can start to prove the conventional wisdom wrong by making a full-throated case for a climate bill in his State of the Union speech this week.

I want to be clear upfront that while I agree with the NYT that Obama is the key to getting a bill, if there isn’t a bill, the blame would go directly to the anti-science crowd (in and out of Congress), who have spread disinformation and demagogued the issue, while exploiting an antidemocratic supermajority “requirement” in the Senate (see “The central question for 2010: Will anti-science ideologues be able to kill the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill?“).

Indeed, the fundamental reason why the bill isn’t dead is that unlike HCR, it has a serious conservative champion, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and many moderate Republicans who have at various times indicated support for economy-wide action.  Today Graham was quoted in the NYT rather awkwardly saying what he usually says:

“Realistically, the cap-and-trade bills in the House and the Senate are going nowhere,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who is trying to fashion a bipartisan package of climate and energy measures. “They’re not business-friendly enough, and they don’t lead to meaningful energy independence.”

Mr. Graham said the public was demanding that any energy legislation from Washington focus on creating jobs, whether by drilling for offshore oil or building wind turbines.

“What is dead is some massive cap-and-trade system that regulates carbon in a fashion that drives up energy costs,” he said.

The first quote is Graham making clear that his effort is something completely different and bipartisan than the House bill (Waxman-Markey) or Kerry-Boxer.  The final quote looks a tad at odds with previous statements, assuming the NYT reported it verbatim.

These quotes have caused much angst in the enviro community, as typified by Dave Roberts at Grist who just published this piece based on Graham’s presumed the abandonment of an economy-wide bill, “The death knell for comprehensive cap-and-trade.”

Graham immediately released a statement:

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on energy independence and climate change efforts.

“The energy legislation that was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is not strong enough to lead us to energy independence. The climate change legislation passed by the House of Representatives and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is too onerous on business and does not enjoy bipartisan support.

“My goal is to continue working with Senators Kerry, Lieberman and my Senate colleagues to create a new pathway forward that focuses on a more robust energy security package and a more business-friendly climate legislation.

“I am committed to finding a new way forward as I believe energy security is a short and long-term job creator for our country. Clean air is a shared value by both parties and all Americans. I remain hopeful after discussing this matter with conservation groups, businesses, and Senate colleagues we can be successful this year.”

Graham is working in good faith to achieve the best bill he can, and he certainly understands it will be very hard to pass a bill that doesn’t put some constraint on carbon.  Last week he told E&E (subs. req’d):

“I can get every Republican for an energy independence bill, OK? But there are not 60 votes,” Graham said. “You’re not going to get the nuclear power provisions you want unless you do something on emission controls.”

UPDATE:  I should have added that John Kerry (D-MA) also responded to the NYT article.

We are not scaling back our efforts. We have not changed our goals one bit. We are simply trying to figure out what the magic formula is to be able to get 60 votes but our goal remains exactly what it was before: to price carbon and to create a target for the reduction of emissions that is real. That’s the goal.

Many folks viewed as near-certain no-votes are quoted in a Climate Wire story reprinted by the NYT as open to some emissions controls:

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said yesterday that she is open to a broad climate and energy bill as an alternative to the U.S. EPA climate regulations expected in the coming months.

“I am for a legislative solution, not a rulemaking, not an unaccountable rulemaking process,” said Landrieu, one of three Senate Democrats who co-sponsored a resolution that would strip EPA of that authority. “I’m for an accountable legislative process to achieve that, and I’d be open to some modification of cap and trade that really recognizes the importance of the refining industry here. Because we’re going to have a supply shortage of oil and refined products. We need to do it all. We need to be producing more and particularly more natural gas.

“I think there’s a way forward, but it’s most certainly going to be bipartisan, and it’s most certainly going to be from the center out,” Landrieu added.

Is that real or just posturing?  Who knows, but it’s at least as big a deal as Graham’s quote.  And then there’s this:

Also opening the door again was Sen. Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who held out until the very end during last month’s Senate deliberations on health care reform legislation. Nelson in past interviews has questioned whether Congress had any interest in tackling such a complicated subject as climate change in an election year, but he did not rule it out last week.

“I’d hope energy policy would still be alive and well,” Nelson said. “I’d hope it can have strong, bipartisan support, at least that’s what I’m hoping.”

Nelson said he has not had detailed conversations yet with Kerry, Graham and Lieberman. But he said he is open to negotiations on setting a limit on greenhouse gas emissions. “I want to see what the legislation does,” he said. “I said I can support cap. I have trouble with cap and trade, the trade part of it. So if it’s cap and trade, watered down, and it’s only the trade watered down, that won’t satisfy me.”

Honestly, who the heck knows what anything Nelson says means?  The article continues:

The recent comments from Landrieu and Nelson shift the senators from “probably no” back to the “fence sitter” category on E&E’s analysis (pdf) of the Senate global warming debate. They join 27 others, including Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

What are the chances of a comprehensive bill this year?  It’s now officially anyone’s guess.  Who could have possibly predicted the turn of events on the healthcare bill?

The NYT reports that Obama will not be backing away from the need for comprehensive legislation tonight:

Another White House official, who insisted on anonymity to avoid overshadowing the State of the Union address, said President Obama would restate his commitment to a bill that addresses global warming along with measures to increase energy efficiency and clean-energy technology.

The official said the White House would support legislation that provided incentives for oil and gas drilling and for construction of nuclear plants, as well as provisions that helped industries that use a lot of energy and were vulnerable to foreign competitors.

But the president will also insist that any legislation also contain some form of cap on emissions of heat-trapping gases to make good on his pledge to reduce global warming pollution by 17 percent over 2005 levels by 2020.

Ultimately, the President is going to have to do exactly what he did in Copenhagen if he wants a bill — negotiate directly with leaders and iron out a deal with specific language.  Let’s hear what Obama has to say, and then I’ll discussed in the next few days what I think Obama has to do to pass a bill that enables him to keep good his pledge, move the US in the direction of reducing emissions and move forward the process of getting an international deal.

15 Responses to Is there going to be a bipartisan climate, energy security, clean air and clean energy jobs bill this year?

  1. Gregory Norminton says:

    Thanks, Joe, for putting this in context. As I wrote in a comment a few days ago, those of us in other countries who are concerned about global warming know that events in the US will determine whether international efforts succeed or fail. Of course, the vested interests know this, too; Congress is where Big Carbon means to kill our last hope.

  2. Barry says:

    Interim carbon tax, please.

    Congress should pass an interim carbon tax that will sunset whenever this cap & trade squabbling gets figured out and actually takes effect.

    Economists say that longer Congress waits to help Americans start the inevitable carbon transition the more painful it will be for all of us.

    Pass a revenue neutral carbon tax with no exemptions now. Very quick and easy to implement. We could have carbon pollution pricing in place in a few months not a few years.

    Get a price on climate pollution now to give breathing room to fashion a cross-party cap & trade system.

  3. Derwood Washington says:

    Bipartisan? You mean locking out the conservatives and having closed door meetings with “friends”?

  4. Doug Bostrom says:

    Derwood Washington says: January 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    “NO” is not half of a dialog.

  5. joe1347 says:

    Well, I guess we’ll find out what Obama has to say (or not say) on climate change legislation tonight. Without a strong committment from the President during the State of the Union tonight, is there even a chance that Climate Change legislation has a chance of passing this year?

    Maybe I’ve become a little too jaded over the past year thanks to the Health Care Reform Bill fiasco, but expecting the Senate to take the lead and pass legislation this year without extreme Presidential arm twisting seems unlikely.

  6. Jeff Huggins says:

    People Don’t Get It, Do They

    The imperative is to face and address our climate and energy problems.

    It’s simply not responsible to let another year pass without EFFECTIVE action.

    Nor is it responsible to merely observe and report that “another year will likely pass”, as if that’s OK or that’s “just the way things are”.

    Nor, even, is it responsible to mildly complain that “it seems that another year will pass”.

    At this point, the ONLY responsible thing to do is to PROMPT POSITIVE and EFFECTIVE CHANGE.

    Am I wrong? What is the scientifically and ethically sound case that says so?

  7. Lou Grinzo says:

    Jeff: No, you’re not wrong. But that has nothing to do with whether we’ll (collectively) do the right thing. The fundamental issue is that too many of the politicians involved perceive (correctly or otherwise) that they will pay too high a price to do what you and I and probably 95% of the people who read this site think is absolutely needed.

    As they perceive the situation, we’re asking career politicians to take a big hit right now in exchange for an environmental benefit that will take years to materialize. Other issues like creating green jobs, enhancing US security be lessening our dependence on imported oil, other health benefits from mining and burning less coal, etc. are either nebulous enough or far enough in the future that they simply don’t outweigh the perceived cost.

    I have no bleedin’ idea how to combat that, except via the voter. Convince enough people of the urgency of the situation and the need to put pressure on their elected representatives, and we’ll send the one signal all politicians are guaranteed to obey: Do what we want or we’ll vote you out. Hence the need for better communication and combating the deniers.

  8. espiritwater says:

    Jeff, IMO we won’t be able to stop catastrophic Climate Change without the Right Leader– someone who is not afraid to put it before everything else. Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of leader.

    Maybe this first year Obama was just getting used to the job. Maybe he’ll wake up soon. If not, we may want to consider presenting him with a book about Rooselvelt and a condensed version of Climate Code Red! If he doesn’t wake up soon or we’re doomed!

    [JR: I’m afraid folks like Ben Nelson and John McCain couldn’t be moved if Obama were Churchill.]

  9. espiritwater says:

    Also, Jeff, someone asked on a previous post, “where will we get thousands of people to march in protest?” Simple. The universities. During the Vietnam war, it was the young people who changed things. They protested night and day, day afer day. I know, I was there. Even when chased by policemen with billy clubs, they never gave up! Now– once more, it is the young people who will be most affected by ignorant, evil policies in Washington. If the young people knew that the fossil fuel industry was screwing them out of a viable future, what do you think they would do? The same thing that happened during the Vietnam war! We need activists/scientists to be out there at the universities addressing these young people and telling the truth about climate change!

  10. espiritwater says:


    “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, because most people in the climate movement would rather do their own little thing, rather than stand together in powerful unison.

    United we stand, divided we fall: Meet in Washington on Earth Day, April 22nd, at 1 P.M. (“WED1”) at The White House for a cool Citizens Climate Congress (CCC).

    We will ask President Obama: 1) to inform misinformed Americans of the urgent need to deal with climate change, and 2) to exercise the bold leadership that the science demands.

    If just a fraction of our climate-oriented groups will cooperate to FOCUS our attention on this ONE place, on ONE day, at ONE time, on ONE VIP, we will have a huge impact.”

  11. Jeff Huggins says:

    Hi espiritwater (8) and Lou (7),

    Yes, I think the young/college generations should get MUCH more active, and I also think our leaders need to get their acts together and gather some verve and courage. Clear thinking too!



  12. Dan B says:

    Good posts Jeff, Lou, espiritwater, etc.

    I believe it’s also important to pay attention to the “conservative” viewpoint and goals. It seems as though Lindsey Graham is positioning himself to support big energy businesses – conservative as in “conserving” big existing businesses.

    If this is the case it could mean handouts to big oil and big coal, with promises of carbon sequestration “research” and geoengineering. It might also block initiatives that truly create jobs and security – at least the many small efforts that truly create jobs and decentralized power sources. (ie, not as vulnerable to terrorism as centralized facilities)

    Just sayin’ it could dramatically slow efforts to produce clean energy and stifle initiative.

  13. Dan B says:

    Dear Lou at 7;

    I don’t agree with your inclusion of green jobs as “nebulous”. My experience is people from all economic strata are excited to hear about opportunities, training, and initiatives to support “green jobs”. People who are deeply skeptical of, or very confused about global warming (winters shorter – what’s not to like?) are interested in green jobs and clean energy.

    I moved from a hip neighborhood, where many people were enthused about renewable energy, to a low income minority neighborhood (white people are less than 10%). People in my new neighborhood have no interest in renewable energy. They’re very excited about “green jobs” and “clean energy”. I didn’t expect that at all.

    A lot of them are construction workers who are free-lancing and finding clients who want energy efficiency as part of the project. Others are small business owners and service employees who want to save money on transportation and heating costs. That’s what “green” means to them.

    In this area “green” real estate is moving, “green” contractors are busy, “energy efficiency” is sprouting all over the place. (as are trees and shrubs – the earliest onset of leaf-out in history by almost a month – exciting times, scary times)


  14. Lou Grinzo says:

    Dan B: I wasn’t saying those green jobs were nebulous. I was saying the politicians PERCEIVE them that way.

    The truest and most valuable thing I ever heard from a manager when I was a programmer at IBM was the old one-liner: “Perception is reality.” Not literally, of course, but that’s how people behave. A critical part of this ongoing process of getting the right public policies to combat climate change (and the other looming horror, peak oil) is understanding that people respond to their perceptions, and that includes their perceptions of incentives we give them, like tax breaks for energy efficiency upgrades to homes.

    It’s something I struggle with all the time, especially when I hear some of the (ahem) “creative” interpretations of reality from politicians, corporations, deniers, etc.

  15. Padraigs Ghost says:

    Search these “buzz words”, communitarianism, global governance, sustainablity, civil society, Rio Treaty, agenda 21, local agenda 21, iclei, eugenics, fabian society, group rights, Climate Change, Carbon Credits Exchage (in Chicago of course), Maurice Strong, David Rockefeller, The Rothechilds family to name a few, etc. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out these smucks don’t have your best interests in mind in their drive for absolute power over the whole world…