The Skywriter

Making Sausage of Climate Policy


Making Sausage of Climate Policy


By 1Sky blogger Andy Silber. See Andy's bio at the end of this post. -- Luis

It is often said that those who love democracy and sausage should never watch either being made. A recent article in the New Yorker about the attempt in the Senate to pass climate legislation is fine evidence to the truth of that saying. This story of the coming together of John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham to work on this bill is a bit long and detailed and very, very depressing. None of these men really cared for each other and it’s not even clear how committed to addressing climate change Lindsey Graham was. Here are a couple of elements of the story that caught my eye. 

From the article it’s clear that John Kerry really wanted to pass something. He reeked of desperation like the guy without a date for the prom on the Thursday before the dance. He called up T. Boone Pickens, who had bankrolled the “Swift boat Veterans for Truth”, an organization that spread lies about him and probably cost him the presidency. Not only did he welcome T. Boone Pickens into his office, but added lots of incentives to encourage the burning of natural gas in cars to the climate bill at Pickens' request. Though natural gas has less carbon than oil and coal, it’s still a carbon based fuel and not really something we should be pouring lots of tax-payer money into. There were lots of other examples where industry support was gained by adding bits to the bill at the polluting industries request.  The biggest of these was revoking the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. This was the sop given to Lindsey Graham to get him to the table as the lone Republican.

It also seems like most Republicans are just bonkers on this issue. The rank and file doesn’t think it’s real, but rather is a giant international conspiracy to destroy America. The elected officials either encourage this lunacy or don’t have the spine to challenge their voters. I’m sure a few even believe it. In the 1990s John McCain was working (as a true maverick) with Joe Lieberman to pass a reasonable climate bill. These days he would vote against what he purposed. Certainly the science hasn’t gotten less convincing, but McCain has gotten less mavericky, and now tows the party line, regardless of what that means to our future.  Are they that ignorant? Do they care more about their power than their grandchildren?

One of the least shocking but most disturbing parts of the story is the role of industry leaders. On one hand we shouldn’t be surprised that the fossil fuel industries are fighting tooth and nail to kill any climate bill, but I don’t think Ford and GM said to Roosevelt in 1941 “We make more money selling cars than tanks, so go fight the war without us." Sure, we were then in a depression and they weren’t making lots of money selling cars, but still, everyone understood the importance of retooling our industries and the captains of industry (whom I’m guessing hated the socialist Roosevelt) understood what had to happen. Were these men more patriotic than today’s leaders of industry? Are they that ignorant? Do today’s business leaders care more about their profits than their grandchildren?

Much of the blame is put on the Democrats and Obama, and I just don’t buy that. Most of the Democrats are ready to vote for any reasonable bill, while only a few Republican’s were even willing to talk to Kerry-Lieberman-Graham (I’m counting Graham) and Graham was the only one willing to talk in public. The Obama administration has not lead the fight in Congress, but that talk discounts the important work that’s happened in the Executive Branch.

  • Auto fuel efficiency standards have already been increased and a significant future increase has already been purposed.
  • EPA is in the process of creating greenhouse-gas emission rules for large point source emitters. This adds greenhouse gases to the list of pollutants regulated under the clean air act, a framework that has been successful in reducing other hazardous emissions.
  • Everyone knows that if anything good comes out of Congress, Obama will sign it. This might sound like a low bar, but a veto was the likely outcome of a positive bill two years ago.

My personal thinking is that the EPA rules are better than what we could get through the Senate until more Republicans decided that they love their grandchildren more than their power or that their continued balking at taking action threatens their power.  That’s not going to happen in 2010 or 2011. It might in 2012, but it will take a motivated electorate that cares about this issue. And that’s where you come in…

Andy Silber is a astrophysicist, engineer, project manager, husband, father, and energy activist living in Seattle. Visit Andy's blog on Sustainable West Seattle. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.

Share |