The last few weeks have seen a slow train wreck as recent efforts to craft a climate/energy bill died in the U.S. Senate. While the House was able to bring the bloated Waxman-Markey Bill forward a year ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week announced that he would not even try to bring forward a compromise bill to the Senate. And since mid-term elections in November appear likely to favour the Republicans, that seems to translate into a death sentence for any kind coherent climate or energy legislation in the U.S. for a while to come.
The list of commentators weighing in on who is to blame is long, including:
- Andrew Revkin - The Broken Senate and the Energy and Climate Challenge (Dot Earth)
- David Roberts - The Death of the Climate Bill (Grist Magazine)
- Robert Redford - Its the Opportunity, Stupid (The Huffington Post)
- Bradford Plumer - No Climate Bill? Then No Nukes, Either. (The Vine/The New Republic)
- Eileen Claussen - Climate Bill: Where to From Here? (Climate Compass/Pew Center)
(And probably many, many more than I have the time to read.)
However, among the most detailed and coherent assessments is one provided by Eric Pooley, a deputy-editor at Bloomberg Business Week, writing at Yale's environment 360 blog (see The Wreckage of Climate Bill, Some Clues for Moving Forward, July 28th). Mr. Pooley identified 6 culprits worthy of blame, including:
- Professional climate deniers
- Senate Republicans
- Senate Democrats
- The (Electric) Power Barons
- The Green Group (environmental NGO's)
- President Obama.
The list of who to blame doesn't leave to many out (although, interestingly, he identifies Representative Henry Waxman and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as 'the only grown-ups in the room' during this debacle).
But perhaps the better part of Pooley's assessment is the consideration of options for Plan B - i.e. how does the U.S. move forward to address an issue (climate change) that is becoming ever more urgent. Briefly, he looks to existing policy and institutions to lead the way - as they have indeed been doing for some years now.
According to an analysis by the World Resources Institute, by leveraging existing authority over the next ten years the U.S. could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent to 12 percent below 2005 levels. This is far short of the 17 percent reduction Obama promised in Copenhagen and nothing close to what needs to be done. But if we continue cutting emissions before asking voters to embrace a cap, we prove that cuts are both technologically feasible and economically sustainable. And we’ll be in a better position when the next legislative opportunity comes.
Until then, the climate war will be waged by cities, states, regional cap-and-trade programs, and, above all, the EPA, which early next year is set to begin regulating stationary sources of CO2 — power plants and large factories.
So in many respects, U.S. Climate policy and action may not look a lot different than it did under the leadership of George Bush. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of President Obama's leadership on this file but a significantly better performance than we are seeing here in Canada where emissions steadily rise in the face of both federal and provincial unwillingness to act.
Pooley does point out the importance of the EPA going forward and the likelihood that Republican attacks will now shift to that agency.
Tough new EPA rules for conventional pollutants will help, and so will new EPA carbon regulations. Perhaps these strict new regulations will refresh the power bosses’ appetite for a cap. But they have plenty of lawyers, and the long, ugly battles over implementation of EPA regulations could extend the current period of uncertainty by many years. Republicans (and some Democrats) will try to strip EPA of its authority over carbon, or at least delay implementation of its new rules.