Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are set to unveil a comprehensive energy and climate change bill in the Senate Wednesday, but a lauded expert on the issue warned that the measure won’t pass this year without forceful leadership from President Barack Obama Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and would likely be a nonstarter in the next Congress.
“The conventional wisdom is that it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have much of a chance, and I think the only thing that could change that is if the president really made a major effort on it at every level,” said Joseph Romm, editor of ClimateProgress.org and one of Time magazineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s “Heroes of the Environment,” in an interview with Raw Story.
“But I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seen any evidence that he’s willing to do to that,” he added, “to make an all-out push to frame the issue, to give a big prime-time speech, to underscore that these mine and oil disasters are because the government under Bush and Cheney took their eye off the ball.”
President Obama has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to a cap and trade solution for energy but has not stressed an urgency to enact legislation this year. The House of Representatives approved its energy legislation last July, but efforts to maneuver it through the Senate have since been marred by the protracted health reform battle and other policy initiatives.
The bill would be “a good start,” said Romm, an MIT PhD in physics and author of the new book Straight Up. “It would be great if Congress could pass it. Just getting a shrinking cap on emissions and a rising price would change everything.”
The Associated Press reported last November that “climate change has worsened and accelerated beyond some of the grimmest of warnings” in 1997, the year of the Kyoto Treaty deliberations. Yet according to surveys by Gallup, fewer Americans today are concerned about the threat of global warming than they were in 2006.
Romm attributed it to a “fierce disinformation campaign” by the fossil fuel industry and Republicans that has succeeded in marginalizing the issue. “It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he added, noting that “if political leaders donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t talk about global warming you can hardly expect the public to consider it a priority issue.”
The House legislation will be defunct come January, forcing Democrats to start from scratch. “I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s any chance [that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be considered] in the next Congress,” Romm said. “Historically, people donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t revisit losing legislation like this anytime soon. Look how long it took health care to return after it failed in 1994.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have stated their desire to move on energy as the next major issue after financial reform Ã¢â‚¬â€œ ahead of immigration.
But Republican votes are more elusive than ever as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Democrats’ strongest ally on the issue and an original sponsor of the Kerry-Lieberman bill, recently stripped his support for it during this Congress. “The House-passed cap and trade bill is dead,” he said in a statement Friday.
Al Gore, writing in The New Republic, called the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf a “consciousness-shifting event” that “brings a rare opportunity” to galvanize Congress to act. “Just as we feel a sense of urgency in demanding that this ongoing oil spill be stopped, we should feel an even greater sense of urgency in” stopping “much larger and more dangerous ongoing emissions of global warming pollution,” he posited.
But with the November midterm elections fast-approaching Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan looming Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the window of opportunity to twist arms and gain the necessary votes on a hot-button issue is continually closing.
“The wishy-washiness of the administration hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t helped,” Romm said. “I think Obama personally gets it, but he is sadly surrounded with advisers who do not get it. We’ve seen that. They do not really understand where the public is, where the public wants to be, and how to get there.”