Who's to Blame for All the Dithering on Climate Legislation?

This story was written by by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Brad Johnson, and Zaid Jilani.

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on the U.S. Senate to "tear down walls of today" and "work in common in order to stem the potential catastrophe that can result if we continue to see global warming continue unabated." Her plea was "met with silence from most Republicans." In June, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act to "for the first time put a price on carbon emissions" in the United States. Overcoming a Republican boycott, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11-1 this morning in favor of its version of the House bill, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), has been met with intransigence by both Republican and Democratic senators. Fossil fuel companies, conservative business lobbying organizations, and right-wing pundits have led the resistance. Exxon Mobil alone spent $7.2 million on lobbying in the last quarter -- more than the total of the entire alternative energy sector or environmental organizations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which called for a "Scopes monkey trial" on climate science in August, suffered months of defections and outside pressure. Grudgingly accepting the need for action, the Chamber is still opposing "targets and timetables" for reducing carbon pollution. Procedural delays and the protracted battle over health care legislation ensure that a bill to tackle the climate crisis and rebuild our economy will not pass this year. However, the urgent need for clean energy reform continues to build, and some politicians are beginning to heed the grassroots call for action.

INHOFE'S BOYCOTT: Fellow Senate Republicans endorsed Jim Inhofe's (R-OK) plan to boycott the legislative markup of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Inhofe's GOP compatriots on the environment committee hoped to block action by refusing to participate in the markup on the pretext that the Environmental Protection Agency's economic analysis of the bill is not "complete." Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) -- a wavering moderate who, unlike Inhofe, admits global warming is real -- has demanded a new five-week-long EPA analysis of the legislation, using artificially pessimistic estimates. However, the EPA has found that the Senate legislation closely resembles the House text, which underwent the full analysis, at a cost of $135,000 in taxpayer money, and released the results of its modeling of the differences. EPA officials testified that the differences between the bills are too small to change the outcome of the modeling exercises. In a letter sent to Boxer, the committee's chair, ranking member Inhofe and his counterparts on five other committees said any attempt to begin the markup before acceding to his demands "would severely damage" its chances for passage. The letter's signatories are the top Republicans on the six Senate committees that will consider this legislation -- environment, energy, agriculture, commerce, foreign relations, and finance. The Republican boycott of climate hearings entered its second full day yesterday. During the hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) argued that being the "party of 'no show'" is a miscalculation that harms the nation, saying, "I think it is unfortunate that the party of 'no' has now devolved to the party of 'no show.'" The boycott prevented the consideration of any amendments to strengthen the legislation. The vote to end the boycott this morning puts Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in charge of the bill's future progress in the Senate.

GRAHAM'S ENGAGEMENT: In a New York Times op-ed last month, Kerry and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) discussed their agreement on a framework for mandatory global warming pollution reductions linked to government support for the nuclear, coal, and natural gas industries. Yesterday, Kerry, Graham, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) discussed how they were working on climate legislation in concert with other senators and White House officials. Graham rebuked senators unwilling to address carbon pollution, saying that he has "seen the effects of a warming planet." Graham called for the U.S. to "lead the world rather than follow the world on carbon pollution" to "create millions of new jobs for Americans that need them." Graham has "crossed the climate Rubicon," abandoning denialist conservative activists by recognizing the threat of global warming and working with Democrats. Conservative activists have accused Graham of "going to bed with John Kerry," making a "pact with the devil," and called him a "traitor," "democrat in drag," and a "wussypants, girly-man, half-a-sissy." The American Energy Alliance, "funded in part by oil and natural gas companies, utilities and other energy-industry firms" and staffed by Republican operatives, is running ads in South Carolina accusing Graham of supporting "new energy taxes" that will "further harm our economy and kill millions of American jobs." But Graham also has local supporters, who argue that "Graham is fighting for South Carolina's needs in the national energy debate." John Courson -- a conservative South Carolina state senator and former Marine -- shot back that "when you see all the ads attacking Lindsey Graham for supporting energy reform, just remember this: The special interest groups are protecting their own profits. Lindsey Graham is fighting for South Carolina."

TIME TICKING DOWN: Although Graham said yesterday that the planet "is in peril," he also joined with several Republicans -- Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Olympia Snowe (ME), Judd Gregg (NH), and Lisa Murkowski (AK) -- to support Voinovich's delay tactic of demanding further analysis of this draft legislation. This dithering reflects the scene on the international stage, as the world's diplomats struggle with the task of crafting the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate treaty ratified by every major nation but the United States. Negotiators are now in Barcelona in preparations for next month's conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. However, developed nations are unwilling or unable to commit to needed reduction targets or financing for developing nations -- in large part because of the inability of the U.S. Congress to take timely action. "African nations walked out" of the talks yesterday, "threatening to do so again unless wealthy nations commit to cutting carbon." Meanwhile, the burning of coal and oil is killing 20,000 Americans each year and costing $120 billion annually. The United States spends a billion dollars a day on imported oil. Georgia's recent $250 million flood was so "epic" and "stunning," the U.S. Geological Survey says "the flood has defied its attempts to define it." Tropical cyclones are battering Nicaragua, Vietnam, and the Philippines, killing over a thousand people and forcing the evacuation of "more than 115,000 people." "The severity of climate change impacts," 18 national scientific organizations told the U.S. Senate last month, "is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades."


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