The BP oil disaster made a major energy bill more likely, but what about a climate bill? And does Obama understand that how he handles oil and climate will define his legacy?
When life gives you lemons … add some lemon dispersant and they’ll disappear from sight. Okay, wrong metaphor.
Obama has suggested many times that he aspires to be a transformational leader like President Reagan, the “great communicator.” Tonight, we may well find out to tonight whether Obama is a Reagan or a Carter. Does Obama understand that his first term will be defined by how he deals with the oil spill — and the looming threat of $4 gasoline as he runs for re-election (see “Peak oil production coming sooner than expected“)? Indeed, those two factors may determine whether or not he has a second term.
Future generation will judge his presidency as a success or failure solely on the basis of whether he spares them the multiple catastrophes that are likely if we stay anywhere near our current path of unrestricted unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions. Our children and grandchildren will hardly care about health care reform or the deficit or Afghanistan if the nation and the world are on an inexorable march to 9°F warming, 4 to 6 feet of sea level rise, rampant superstorms, widespread DustBowlif-ication, and hot, acidified oceans with ever-expanding dead zones — aka Hell and High Water.
Reagan had this favorite joke about an irrepressibly optimistic boy who, when shown a pile of horse manure, starts digging through it excitedly. When the puzzled adult says, “What do you think you’re doing?” the boy replied beaming, “With all this manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere!” CBS actually quotes Ed Meese saying of this:
“Reagan told the joke so often,” Meese said, chuckling, “that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, ‘There must be a pony in here somewhere.’”
Well, with all the friggin’ oil and dispersant mucking up the Gulf Coast now, there must be one hell of a pony in here. And maybe there is.
The conventional wisdom inside the DC beltway before the spill was that there was no possibility of passing a climate bill. And that pretty much meant there was no possibility of passing an energy bill, as I discussed back in February.
But now the uber-insiders at the Politico report today, “Gulf fuels new energy-bill push“:
Joel Benenson, a pollster for the Democratic National Committee and Obama’s presidential campaign, argues in a new briefing for top Capitol Hill officials that a comprehensive energy bill “could give Democrats a potent weapon to wield against Republicans in the fall.”
“The oil spill is intensifying the public’s desire for clean energy investments and increased regulation on corporate polluters,” Benenson writes in the briefing, which he prepared on behalf of the League of Conservation Voters.
“In the aftermath of the spill, people firmly believe Congress needs to do more than just make BP pay. Even when pressed with opposition messaging that now is not the time for some ‘job killing energy tax,’ people coalesce around comprehensive clean energy reform. Consequently, support for a comprehensive energy bill is very high. With the right messaging, that support holds strong in the face of harsh opposition attacks.”
Well, Graham appears to have lamely abandoned his own challenge, embracing the too-little, too-late Lugar bill (see In the mother of all flip-flops, Graham rejects his own climate bill, endorses Lugar’s “half-assed energy bill,” which means he “just made the problem worse”).
But if Graham and a few other GOPers can rally around Lugar, then Obama certainly has a legitimate shot at getting 60 votes for Lugar plus some sort of a shrinking carbon cap through the Senate, even if it requires strengthening the bill in conference and having it pass both houses in the lame-duck session after the election.
Yes, the extra-constitutional 60 vote “requirement” in the Senate can potentially do in even the greatest of leaders in our current political climate (see “The central question for 2010: Will anti-science ideologues be able to kill the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill?“). So as I wrote back in January:
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.
This speech tonight will set the tone for the tough messaging and personal lobbying that is to come. After 100,000,000 gallons of oil and 1,000,000 gallons of dispersants dumped in our Gulf, I want to see the damn pony!