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What Killed the Climate Bill, Inertia, Corruption or Jobs?

RP Siegel | Monday August 16th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Last week saw a number of post-mortems on the failed climate bill. So maybe it’s time to do a post-mortem on the post-mortems to see where they agreed and what might be learned from all of this.

Jim Tankersley writes in the LA Times that it was all about jobs. Despite strenuous efforts by numerous environmental groups to make the connection between clean energy and jobs, they could not overcome the nearly $90 million in lobbying and campaign contributions that came pouring in from the oil and gas companies, even as the oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico. The other thing clean energy backers lacked was a strong clean energy jobs story despite the fact that green jobs grew by 9.1% between 1998 and 2007, while general job growth hovered around 3.7%

According to Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute,  “I don’t think the American public is there yet… The entire country is focused on jobs and the economy. Anything that might discourage jobs and employment will be a tough sell.”

So it would seem that the message, tinged with the familiar fear mongering that business leaders and their Republican partners have used so well for so long now: emissions limits would push electric rates higher, which would kill jobs and stunt growth in today’s economy that depends on cheap oil, coal and natural gas. Short term, safe thinking once again carried the day. Is that what we really want from our leaders, despite the fact that we are perilously close to the brink of a long term catastrophe?

Meanwhile Andrew Revkin argues in the NY Times that Greens made a mistake in focusing on tactics rather than ideas. We need to reframe the argument, he says, “from one of a 20th-century-style pollution problem to more of a 21st-century-style technology and innovation opportunity.” He points to the output of Denver-based Presidential Climate Action Project as a place to look. The group has come up with a five point plan that he sees as a good start.

  1. Create a national roadmap to a clean energy economy as Great Britain has done. Ideas are out there to easily cut 25% or more if we could get consolidated action.
  2. Declare a war on waste. This is so obvious. The US economy currently wastes 87% of the energy it consumes. All that money being wasted could be better spent on jobs aimed at reducing waste further or generating clean power.
  3. Reinvent national transportation policy. Incentives are still heavily skewed towards building roads because that’s what we’ve always done.
  4. Stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Phasing out subsidies alone would contribute 30% of the cuts required to maintain climate disruption at a “reasonable” level.
  5. Make ecosystem restoration a central strategy in climate mitigation and adaptation.

To this list he adds his own item: “direct presidential initiative to spur American innovation and energy and science education.” Another idea to consider is that of feed-in tariffs, which have worked very well in bringing renewables to Germany. The great thing about this list is that it is positive, focusing on new ideas that we can and must do, rather than focusing on taking things away. And, it must be added, that all of these actions will add jobs.

Finally, David Roberts writing in Grist, dismisses all of these arguments as to why the bill failed, framing the defeat in mostly political terms. The bill, he claims, was doomed from the start. Here’s why.

  • The Senate has become totally dysfunctional. The narrow margins have allowed individual senators, using the threat of filibuster, to hold the entire country hostage.
  • The economy’s in the tank.
  • Republicans are saying “No” to everything.
  • Centrist Democrats from coal states refused to support the bill despite built-in protections.
  • Obama’s choice to pursue health care and financial reform first.

For me personally, I think all of the above are true: the political analysis, the fresh ideas, and the jobs angle. I am particularly disappointed in what has become of the US Senate, an institution I once held in the highest esteem. They have apparently succumbed to what I alternatively call “inertia” or “corruption” depending on how angry I feel on any given day. But given how much money and influence is being applied by the defenders of the status quo these days, there really isn’t that much difference between the two anymore.

RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails which is now available on Amazon Kindle

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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