As of July 22nd , the second effort to enact a Climate Change bill in this congress failed. Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid announced that the ‘We know that we don’t have the votes’ for a comprehensive reform. Instead, the focus will be on a slimmer package focusing on household efficiency and the gulf oil spill.
Mr. Reid said that the Senate will pursue a more limited measure that tightens energy efficiency standards and responds to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico rather than take up legislation that cuts carbon emissions at this time.
Democrats posit that the slimmer package will tighten household energy efficiency requirements and increase financing for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. At the same time, the package will ensure that BP will hold responsibility to pay for the cleanup of the oil spill, promote further production of natural gas, and increase the manufacturing of natural gas vehicles, particularly big trucks.
The failure is not entirely surprising; the Democratic Party have expended most, if not all, of their political capital on the Healthcare fight. After a lengthy and extremely draining battle, this legislation still ended up being perceived by many as a ‘welfare project’ that would add even more to the deficit in desperate times. Furthermore, many felt Congress should have been concentrating on increasing the number of jobs in the economy rather than ‘damaging’ it with elaborate Democratic plans.
Under these circumstances, a comprehensive Climate Change bill would always have been difficult. The Republican party, already vitriolic over much of the Democratic legislative agenda in this congress, painted the Climate Change bill (with the notable exception of Senator Lindsey Graham) as a ‘national energy tax’. Given the current radical streak to American politics embodied in the Tea Party movement, Democratic leaders proved unwilling to engage in a lengthy battle before the upcoming November mid-term election over anything that could be construed as a tax or unrelated to jobs.
There is a second element to this Bill’s failure – the state of the current Republican party. Republicans have pursued a policy of near unanimous opposition to the Democratic agenda: from the stimulus, to healthcare and even on short term crucial issues such as unemployment benefits. The same goes for climate change. The latter strikes a particularly deep chord; since George H. W Bush, Republicans have been almost uniformly opposed to any significant climate change measures, doubting both the science, most notably with Senator Inhofe (R-OK) describing the science as a ’hoax’ as their minority leader on the Senate Environment committee and arguing that any measure would cripple the American economy.
Nevertheless, we may be at a turning point. The American public has shown consistent support for clean energy above 50%, even if the Republicans take back the House this November, their continued opposition approach will have to change and climate change may well prove difficult to avoid with an expectant public. If they don’t take back the House, Democrats will feel they’ve been given a new mandate to continue their progressive agenda.
Finally, America may just be working incrementally on climate change, rather than a ‘big bang approach’. The stimulus channelled record amounts of funding to renewable energy and energy efficiency, raised fuel efficiency standards and may now work again to move to gas and improve energy efficiency. If ‘cap and trade’ can be implement in the next congress the first 4 years of Obama’s Presidency will not be without successes on the climate change front, albeit at a pace that will be detrimental to domestic and international efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions.