Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 17, 2010

FIRST, WALL STREET, THEN CLIMATE.... The next big fight on Capitol Hill is obviously Senate work on bringing new safeguards to Wall Street. But once that's finished -- if it gets finished -- what's next? President Obama told several business leaders yesterday that an energy/climate bill will soon follow, and he'd like their help in getting it passed.

Obama made the plug during a meeting Friday with his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which includes the heads of General Electric, Caterpillar and Oracle, along with labor leaders and economists.

He told the group that the climate bill -- which would cap global warming emissions -- is good for business.

Obama said that individual members of Congress may be worried about the short-term implications of voting for the bill and that hearing from businesses would be reassuring.

That's a reasonable assumption. The most common complaint from detractors -- aside, of course, from the notion that all climate science is an elaborate conspiracy intended to destroy capitalism -- is that combating global warming will undermine businesses and the economy. The more leaders of the business community say otherwise, the better.

But what can we reasonably expect to happen in this fight? The House passed its climate bill, with cap-and-trade, last summer, 219 to 212. At the time, it garnered the support of eight House Republicans -- which, in retrospect, still seems like something of a miracle.

The Senate will likely prove to be even more difficult. Steven Pearlstein gives the bill "a 50-50 chance."

Many in the environmental community have come around to Kerry's view that this is the best shot they are going to have anytime soon at passing comprehensive energy and climate change legislation. And parts of the business community have come around to Graham's view that they can't afford another decade of uncertainty over regulatory issues, particularly with an activist Democrat in control of the regulatory agencies, just as they cannot afford to alienate an entire generation that has a keen interest in the environment and doesn't look kindly on their intransigence.

At this point, it's a bit of a stretch to call this a bipartisan compromise -- the bill that Kerry, Graham and independent Joe Lieberman are expected to introduce a week from Monday is likely to have no other Republican as an initial co-sponsor. But its terms have been crafted to appeal to a handful of Republican senators who, either out of personal belief or political necessity, are eager to find themselves on the right side of history.

They include: retiring senators such as George Voinovich of Ohio and Richard Lugar of Indiana, whose Midwestern states would fare even better under the Senate bill than the House-passed version; Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who will surely like all of the goodies for the nuclear power industry included in the bill; Susan Collins of Maine, whose idea for rebating to consumers money collected by the government through the sale of carbon-emission rights to electric utilities and oil refiners is a central feature of the Senate compromise; and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the newbie senator who so far has lived up to his promise to be an "independent" Republican.

As much as I want this bill to pass, and know that we won't see an opportunity like this again for quite a while, I'm finding it difficult to be optimistic. For one thing, Republicans will be under enormous pressure from their party to oppose any and all climate-related efforts, and they tend to buckle when the heat is on. For another, there's no guarantee that Midwestern Dems will stick with their party on this, either.

And complicating matters further, if the Senate manages to pass a bill, the House leadership may struggle to put together another majority to seal the deal.

I guess we'll see soon enough.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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Comments

I'm with you, Steve. Unless there is a devastating heat wave and hurricanes as this comes towards a vote, the Rs will all vote lockstep against it.

Posted by: Dems lose huge in 2010 on April 17, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Neither American democracy nor Chinese authoritarianism has a government willing or able to deal with this issue. It is just not visible enough for their societies to comprehend or make any kind of short-term adjustment for long-term action. It is a human failing, not a political one.

Posted by: JMG on April 17, 2010 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Well, when it comes to a deep pockets industry that has everything to lose from climate change and nothing to gain by obstructionism you can't beat the insurance industry. There is nothing like widespread coastal flooding of major population centers to concentrate the mind of underwriters. Particularly those who need to be fact based and use probabilities and models as the basic underlying tools of their profession. As evil as the the insurance industry can be, one thing that they can not be accused of and that is not understanding how to act in their own self interest. It would seem to me that their power financially and politically should trump the old smokestack industries and the new economy going forward and it is time to harrnass that mule.

Posted by: SW on April 17, 2010 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

It would seem to me that their power financially and politically should trump the old smokestack industries and the new economy going forward and it is time to harrnass that mule.

Fossil energy interests are trumped only by one entity in this country, the military industrial complex. But even the military complex is built to serve energy interests first. So no, a few Cat insurance companies have no chance of swaying the most dominant private industry probably ever assembled on earth.

We are already fucked. Now we're just fighting over how fucked.

Posted by: oh my on April 17, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

worse yet, yhe bill is an absolute stinker that does more harm than good. it does NOT deserve support unless you favor gutting the EPA, more coal plants and big investments in nuclear.

Posted by: sue on April 17, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

The bill DOES NOT do more harm than good. Though weakened from Waxman-Markey. It establishes a framework that can be tightened over time.

As opposed to no framework at all, and another lost half- or full-decade at a critical time. Get it? Jeebus.

Posted by: Frank C. on April 17, 2010 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

The climate issues, like all environmental problems, is caused by rapid population growth. Start dealing with the root of the problem and not just the symptoms if you want any real success.

Posted by: Rickman on April 17, 2010 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

'Fossil energy interests are trumped only by one entity in this country, the military industrial complex. But even the military complex is built to serve energy interests first. So no, a few Cat insurance companies have no chance of swaying the most dominant private industry probably ever assembled on earth.'

I won't argue against that, except that we need to split the chamber. And the more deep pocket interests on the other side of the ledger that we can array the better, including the military. It is their blood after all.

Posted by: SW on April 17, 2010 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

sue wrote: "... the bill is an absolute stinker that does more harm than good."

Frank C. replied: "The bill DOES NOT do more harm than good. Though weakened from Waxman-Markey. It establishes a framework that can be tightened over time."

The emerging Senate bill's support for expanded offshore oil drilling, for the "clean coal" hoax, and for the nuclear boondoggle, are definitely major items on the "harm" side of the ledger. They will do nothing to address the actual problem of anthropogenic global warming, and they will squander massive public resources that will then be unavailable for solutions that really work.

At the same time, the Senate bill certainly would do some good things.

Whether the Senate bill on the whole does MORE harm than good, I cannot say.

The problem is, that even setting aside the harmful provisions, the Senate bill does not come anywhere close to doing ENOUGH good.

Unfortunately, this isn't like the health care reform situation, where in the absence of any legislation or with the passage of a flawed (in my opinion) bill, we could muddle along with a less-than-desirable health care system that we could still hope to incrementally improve over time. People would continue to suffer unnecessarily, money would continue to be squandered on insurance company profits, and might do so indefinitely -- but life would go on. It wouldn't be the end of the world.

Global warming is different. It isn't about negotiating with the fossil fuel corporations for a better deal, for example to prevent price-gouging, or regulate mine safety, or address local pollution problems from coal ash, or something like that, where we could muddle along living with a half-solved problem. It's about the laws of physics. And the laws of physics don't negotiate.

And we don't have the luxury of time in the case of global warming. The anthropogenic excess of CO2 in the atmosphere is ALREADY at dangerous levels. The resulting anthropogenic warming is ALREADY producing rapid and extreme -- and extremely dangerous -- changes in the Earth's climate, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere. We URGENTLY need to not only phase out ALL fossil fuel use, we need to figure out how to draw down the excess CO2 to preindustrial levels, if we are to have any hope of avoiding the worst consequences of AGW.

As in the case of health care reform, the emerging Senate legislation may well be the best that is "politically possible" -- and of course, the Senate may not even be able to pass that much.

Either way, if there is no legislation, or if there is inadequate legislation, nature is not going to cut us any slack. Global warming is not going to wait for us while Senators sit around negotiating with corporations to protect their profits against the changes that nature demands.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 17, 2010 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect that the bill will fail and come next year, the EPA will impose its own carbon regulations. Then, perhaps if Obama wins a second term, there may be a renewed push for cap and trade or a revenue-neutral carbon tax as part of a tax reform package.

In the unlikely event that the Senate DOES pass a climate/energy bill this year, I suspect the WH and the House leadership may wait until after the midterms and try to pass a revised bill during a lame-duck session.

Posted by: Andrew on April 17, 2010 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

hearing from businesses would be reassuring. That's a reasonable assumption.

what on Earth makes anyone think that US business leaders do what is best for business? Universal Healthcare would be great for business, but they have worked mightily for 40 years to make sure it hasn't happened.

Sustainable energy, a "green" economy is great for business - the energy is FREE for god's sake. But "big business" has at best been passive for 30 years (the known need and technological solutions to get off of fossil fuels goes back at least that far), but mostly they have been adversarial to sustainable energy, in site of it being a business advantage slam dunk, and not to mention a potential whole new industry.

Avoiding economic crises of the type caused by unregulated greed on Wall Street and the banking system is unquestionably good for business. But there is no business leader consensus on regulating Wall Street and banking let alone a push for it.

The fact of the matter is that US business potentates are are plutocrats first, and good businesspersons second, or third or fourth...They're not good business leaders under any rational definition - what they are is greed-obsessed goons. They are far more intent on screwing the middle class, working class, and disadvantaged; busting unions; and in denying average Americans a decent living than they are in good business practices.

Posted by: pluege on April 17, 2010 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the newbie senator who so far has lived up to his promise to be an "independent" Republican."

Really? My impression is that he is just been McConnell's 40th bitch.

The Iceland eruption might be enough to give us a cool Summer, which in DC will be seen as further argument for doing nothing about CO2.

Posted by: bob h on April 18, 2010 at 6:16 AM | PERMALINK

very interesting

Posted by: free stuff on May 1, 2010 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK
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