Skimming over the headlines this morning, what I thought was a standard positive-thinking op-ed at the NY Times entitled “Yes we can (pass climate change legislation)”, transformed into an exciting development when I noticed the authors of this piece – Senators John Kerry (no surprise there), and Republican Lindsey Graham.
Though there were some foreshadowing signs, after a practical witch hunt on the 8 Republican representatives who dared to vote in favour of the House bill back in June, the chances of any constructive partisan debate in the Senate seemed slim.
Since John Mccain lost the elections, the Republican Party was nearly unanimous in opposing any climate action (Mccain talked of addressing climate change during his campaign). Not only is a significant number of elected Republicans set firmly in the climate denial camp, but also since Obama took office, Republicans automatically opposed anything suggested by Democrats, be they Congress or Administration (this recently reached a ridiculous level when far right pundits rejoiced in Obama’s failure to secure the 2016 Olympics for Chicago. More moderate Republicans pointed out that hosting the Olympics is harfly a partisan issue). That is why Graham’s recent remark – “I’d like to solve a problem, and if it’s on President Obama’s watch, it doesn’t bother me one bit if it makes the country better off.” – was already a newsworthy item.
So what is the compromise Kerry and Graham outline in their joint opinion piece?
1) “we agree that climate change is real and threatens our economy and national security” – as I mention above, this statement is still important in American domestic politics, where – unlike in most other countries – many elected officials still refuse to acknowledge climate change as a legitimate problem.
2) “while we invest in renewable energy sources like wind and solar, we must also take advantage of nuclear power” – strong support for nuclear energy is important to many Democrats as well, and without it no climate or energy bill is likely to pass Congress.
3) “climate change legislation is an opportunity to [break] our dependence on foreign oil…we must recognize that … we will continue to burn fossil fuels … The United States should aim to become the Saudi Arabia of clean coal.” – clean coal was also a recurring theme in both Mccain’s and Obama’s approach to climate change during the presidential campains. Even more so than nuclear energy, coal is a sticking point for Democrats representing coal-producing states. An emphasis on clean coal might help these Senators to swallow the climate bill pill, but it is important to keep firmly in mind that carbon capture and storage is still far from being a sure thing.
4) “we are committed to seeking compromise on additional onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration” – that is certainly a compromise. Focusing mainly on energy security issues, as has sometimes been done to promote the climate agenda, makes drilling for more American oil a logical solution. That however, does not help to combat climate change.
5) “we cannot sacrifice another job to competitors overseas” – unlike many Republicans, proponents of climate legislation – including leading companies – realise that ignoring the business opportunities inherent in moving towards a low carbon society will not help the US regain economic leadership nor supply new jobs in a time where unemployment is still on the rise.
6) “we should consider a border tax on items produced in countries that avoid these standards…we will develop a mechanism to protect businesses… there will be short-term transition costs associated with any climate change legislation, costs that can be eased” – Kerry and Graham recognise that tackling climate change and transitioning to a low-carbon world is a complex process, one that cannot be done smoothly without some involvement from the government.
And if the above isn’t convincing enough, they provide one final reason why Congress should act – “If Congress does not pass legislation dealing with climate change, the administration will use the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new regulations. Imposed regulations are likely to be tougher and they certainly will not include the job protections and investment incentives we are proposing.” – as expected, the EPA’s swift progress on GHG emissions is a good incentive for legislators to deal with this huge issue in a more balanced and systematic way.