US Senate fails again on climate

So, it seems the possibility of a cap-and-trade system in the United States to help deal with climate change has been killed by Congress, at least for the moment. As I have argued before, if the current generation fails to take action to prevent dangerous or catastrophic climate change, that failure is what history will remember us by. We will be remembered as the people who had all the necessary information, but who were so selfish and dysfunctional that they couldn’t step up and take even the first small step.

I remain unimpressed with humanity.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

18 thoughts on “US Senate fails again on climate”

  1. Big Coal will be back begging for cap-and-trade: No, really. Right now there are EPA rules in the pipeline that are going to shut down a third or more of the existing coal fleet. No new coal plants are going to get built—they’re not cost-competitive with natural gas or wind, and every one runs into a buzzsaw of grassroots opposition. In other words, carbon caps or no carbon caps, Big Coal is in trouble. Sooner or later, the industry will realize that the funding it can get from cap-and-trade, to support carbon capture and sequestration, is its only path to survival. Robert Byrd tried to tell the industry the truth before he died. Byron Dorgan tried to tell it the truth just the other day. By 2012, certainly by 2015 when many of the rules kick in, the industry will be forced to acknowledge this basic truth. And they’ll come begging Congress for cap-and-trade.

  2. Climate Bill, R.I.P.
    Instead of taking the fight to big polluters, President Obama has put global warming on the back burner

    A comprehensive energy and climate bill – the centerpiece of President Obama’s environmental agenda – is officially dead. Take it from the president’s own climate czar, Carol Browner. “What is abundantly clear,” she told Rolling Stone in an exclusive interview on July 8th, “is that an economy-wide program, which the president has talked about for years now, is not doable in the Senate.”

    But the failure to confront global warming – central not only to Obama’s presidency but to the planet itself – is not the Senate’s alone. Rather than press forward with a climate bill in the Senate last summer, after the House had passed landmark legislation to curb carbon pollution, the administration repeated many of the same mistakes it made in pushing for health care reform. It refused to lay out its own plan, allowing the Senate to bicker endlessly over the details. It pursued a “stealth strategy” of backroom negotiations, supporting huge new subsidies to win over big polluters. It allowed opponents to use scare phrases like “cap and tax” to hijack public debate. And most galling of all, it has failed to use the gravest environmental disaster in the nation’s history to push through a climate bill – to argue that fossil-fuel polluters should pay for the damage they are doing to the atmosphere, just as BP will be forced to pay for the damage it has done to the Gulf.

    Top environmental groups, including Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, are openly clashing with the administration, demanding that Obama provide more hands-on leadership to secure a meaningful climate bill. “We really need the president to take the lead and tell us what bill he’s going to support,” says Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund. “If he doesn’t do that, then everything he’s done so far will lead to nothing.”

  3. So now what? Basically, we’re left with two sub-optimal but viable options in the near-term, plus maybe a third a little later.

    The two near-term options are:

    1. direct command-and-control regulation from the EPA;
    2. state and regional action, such as RGGI and the Western Climate Initiative.

    The first one — EPA regulation — is fairly straightforward. Now that the Supreme Court has clarified that EPA does, in fact, have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a threat to human health, it should knuckle down. It’s time now for EPA to start doing so in a comprehensive and aggressive way. One very good place to start would be direct regulation of coal plants.

    Another, ultimately more effective, version would be for EPA to institute a carbon cap-and-trade program, ideally one that is economy-wide. The EPA has already proven itself to be a smart and efficient administrator of cap-and-trade programs. So we’re talking about an agency that has the experience and know-how to do it right on a larger scale. And we’re talking about an opportunity to do it without the pigpile of pork-barrel industry giveaways that can happen in a legislative setting.

  4. Op-Ed Columnist
    Who Cooked the Planet?
    Published: July 25, 2010

    So it wasn’t the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change. What was it?

    The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.

    If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.

    Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you’ll find that they’re on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades.

  5. “IF President Obama and Congress had announced that no financial reform legislation would pass unless Goldman Sachs agreed to the bill, we would conclude our leaders had been standing in the Washington sun too long. Yet when it came to addressing climate change, that is precisely the course the president and Congress took. Lacking support from those most responsible for the problem, they have given up on passing a major climate bill this year.

    It’s true that passing legislation to rebuild our fossil fuel-based economy was always going to be a momentous challenge. Senators and representatives feel in their bones (and campaign accounts) the interests of utilities and the coal and oil industries. Even well-intentioned members of Congress struggle to balance the competing needs of energy-intensive industries, coal workers and American families.

    Thread No. 1: Climate is out; green jobs are in.

    Thread No. 2: Devising a bill for historic polluters, not the American people.

    Thread No. 3: A Rube Goldberg-policy construction.

    Thread No. 4: The public sits it out.”

  6. “We’ve basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature’s operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign — even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so. Fasten your seat belts. As the environmentalist Rob Watson likes to say: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.” You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000,” says Watson. Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is just what we’re doing.”

  7. Death of a Climate Bill

    I previously told the story of being at the Pacific Rim Summit last year, and someone pulling up a chair at my table and saying “I disagree with everything you just said.” One of the things I had said was “Congress will not pass any meaningful climate change legislation next year” and my detractor’s response was “I think you are completely wrong and that we will get a climate bill next year.” Well, that disagreement is likely settled:

    There are just too many competing interests here who have very different notions about what to do – if anything – about climate change. I don’t believe they will ever agree to anything that has real teeth. The many competing interests are why I wasn’t surprised at the fiasco in Copenhagen, and why I am not surprised to see that despite initiatives like the Kyoto Protocol the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere continues to rise unabated. I also think that any chance of passing legislation went up in smoke with the Climategate story, because it emboldened opponents who already harbored doubts about climate change (which probably includes most Republican and a few Democratic legislators).

  8. In retrospect, it does seem as though ‘Climategate‘ did considerable damage to the cause of dealing with climate change.

    It put advocates of change back on the defensive, evaporating the confidence that had surrounded the fourth report of the IPCC. Similarly, it re-invigorated opponents of action, allowing them to claim once again that the science is dubious.

    Of course, the leaked emails show no such thing. Nonetheless, they will probably be remembered historically as one of the many disingenuous distractions that helped opponents of greenhouse gas regulation.

  9. America’s climate policy
    The Senate’s retreat from cap and trade might, one day, lead to a carbon tax. For now it leaves a dreadful mess

    Jul 29th 2010

    NO ONE expected a bang; but the idea of a cap on America’s carbon emissions died with barely the bathos of a whimper. Despite months of legislative fiddle piled on procedural faddle, no one ever drafted a bill with a carbon cap, and the sort of trading system necessary for industry to meet its demands, that stood a chance on the Senate floor. So the majority leader, Harry Reid, finally decided the whole issue should be quietly flushed away (see article). With the mid-term elections sure to swing heavily away from Mr Reid’s Democrats, there is now no possibility of comprehensive climate-change legislation in America for years.

    Given the murkiness of some of the bathwater involved (maybe we’ll let you have a little cap and trade if you’ll let us go on emitting neurotoxic mercury, said the electric utilities), it is easy to lose track of the attractions of the baby. America is the largest per-person emitter of carbon dioxide among the world’s big economies, and the second-largest emitter overall. If the risks of global damage through climate change are to be reduced, America’s emissions need to come under some sort of control, both because of what they do to the climate and because of the message such control would send to the world’s other large emitters—and in particular to China, the largest.

    In his election campaign, Barack Obama spoke enthusiastically of a cap-and-trade scheme; so did his opponent, John McCain. But Mr Obama never made it a high priority, and Mr McCain, back in the Senate, maintained a sulky silence on the subject. Opposition by the Republican minority marked a triumph of politics over policy: some Republicans recognise the risks of climate change and the appeal of cap and trade. But it was Democrats who killed the bill.

  10. Pingback: Bad times ahead
  11. “The Senate is basically an oligarchic institution, so it’s no huge surprise that many senators gave more weight to the interests of fossil-fuel industries than they did to the public interest in mitigating climate change and developing clean energy. Oil and gas groups outspent green groups 7 to 1 — and that doesn’t count Big Coal money. Exxon alone outspent all green groups together.

    Still, even for a cynic like me, it’s striking just how little moral weight climate change carries in the Senate. As in, none. There’s absolutely no sense of urgency, no sense that there’s anything to risk by being crass and cavalier about it. Senators who claim to accept the basic scientific facts are dubbed “moderate” even as they go on to treat climate policy with all the seriousness of an earmark haggle.

    I can’t count how many times in the last few days I’ve heard people say, “the bill never had a chance in the Senate.” But that lets the people involved off the hook too easily. And they are people — human beings, with agency, making decisions. They could treat governing with a degree of moral seriousness, but they choose not to. They deserve to be called out and shamed for it, not treated like some immutable feature of the landscape. It’s hard to see how we ever get to reasonable national energy policy if the bottleneck for all domestic legislation continues to devolve into equal parts oligarchy and ignorance.”

  12. The Senate is dysfunctional and corrupt. I know I keep harping on this, but that’s because other people keep harping on the green movement and cap-and-trade and John Kerry and Obama. When liberals turn on each other because of failure in the Senate, the Senate wins. The Senate is not the real world! It’s a corrupt, unrepresentative, archaic institution run according to perverse rules, populated with incurious, egotistical, ignorant, wealthy old white men. Nothing good or decent survives there. That’s not a problem for good and decent things, it’s a problem for the Senate!

    Obviously, greens and Dems knew the Senate existed and should have planned for it. But it’s too easy to say everyone should have known climate legislation was an impossible lift in the Senate. The ineptness, absurdity, and adamantine status quo bias on display in the Senate over the last few years has gone beyond what could have been reasonably predicted by even the most cynical. More on that in subsequent posts.”

    “The truth, which becomes more and more apparent the closer one gets to centers of power, is that decisionmakers are often woefully uninformed. I was talking once with a staffer for a senator who was in the middle of the climate fight. “When I first got here, I was like everyone else,” he said, “wondering how much was malice and how much was ignorance. The longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve concluded it’s ignorance.” That fact is, he said, most senators, even the ones directly involved in the fight over climate policy, don’t know the rudimentary facts about climate change or clean energy. They understand very little about the policies in question or how those policies will affect their constituents. They know virtually nothing about the climate bill that came out of the House. Anybody with an RSS reader can quickly become more expert on these hugely consequential issues than the average senator.”

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