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Timing is Everything: The Battle for Comprehensive Energy and Climate Legislation Has Just Begun

Dan Lashof

Posted June 3, 2010 in Solving Global Warming

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It has been almost a year since the House passed comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

It has been 7 months since the Senate Environment Committee passed comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

Many supporters are frustrated by the slow pace of progress and the obstacles that remain in the way.

But it has only been one day since President Obama turned his legislative focus to pushing comprehensive energy and climate legislation across the finish line.

The President’s speech in Pittsburgh yesterday was the lead story in today’s Washington Post. And for good reason. Using the Gulf oil disaster as proof that we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels, President Obama made his strongest case yet for enacting comprehensive energy reform that includes limits on carbon pollution. And he committed to round up the votes in the Senate to “get this done.” The key section of his speech is:

We’re also investing in the ideas and technologies that will lead to new jobs and entire new industries.  Consider what we’ve done with clean energy.  The tax credits and loan guarantees in the Recovery Act alone will lead to 720,000 clean energy jobs in America by 2012.  To take just one example, the United States used to make less than 2% of the world’s advanced batteries for hybrid cars.  By 2015, we’ll have enough capacity to make up to 40% of these batteries.  

And this brings me to an issue that’s on everyone’s mind right now – namely, what kind of energy future can insure our long-term prosperity.

The catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf right now may prove to be a result of human error – or of corporations taking dangerous short-cuts that compromised safety, or a combination of both.  And I’ve launched a National Commission so that the American people will have answers on exactly what happened.

But we have to also acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth – risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes.  Just like we have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and grandchildren. 

We consume more than 20% of the world’s oil, but have less than 2% of the world’s oil reserves.  So without a major change in our energy policy, our dependence on oil means that we will continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned wealth to other countries every month – including countries in dangerous and unstable regions.  In other words, our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security.  It will smother our planet.  And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk.

Now, I understand that we cannot end our dependence on fossil fuels overnight.  That’s why I’ve supported offshore oil production as one part of our overall energy strategy.  But we can pursue such production only if it’s safe; and only if it’s used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy.

The time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition.  The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.  That means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy efficient.  It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants.  And it means rolling back billions of dollars in tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development.  

But the only way the transition to clean energy will succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future – if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed.  And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.   

Many businesses have already embraced this idea because it provides a level of certainty about the future.  And for those that face transition costs, we can help them adjust.  But if we refuse to take into account the full cost of our fossil fuel addiction – if we don’t factor in the environmental costs and national security costs and true economic costs – we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future.

The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill, and there is currently a plan in the Senate – a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans – that would achieve the same goals.  The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.  I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can, and I will work with anyone from either party to get this done.  But we will get this done.  The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century.  We will not move backwards.  America will move forward. 

The whole speech is worth a careful read because it makes clear that President Obama does not see energy and climate legislation as simply another item on his agenda. He sees it as one of the four pillars of a new foundation for America’s prosperity in the 21st Century, along with health care reform (passed), financial reform (passed), and education reform (ongoing).

The Washington Post story includes other important information indicating that the White House is gearing up for the same kind of push that got healthcare and financial reform through the Senate:

But Senate Democrats are now voicing confidence about the legislation's chances, and White House aides say they see a "window." Schiliro, the administration's legislative liaison, visited senators this week to discuss the measure, while Emanuel called Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats to alert them to Obama's Carnegie Mellon speech and to reiterate the president's desire to have the bill come up this summer.

As I have said before, change shouldn’t be this hard. But it is. The 111th Congress has been through a long regular season of legislative maneuvering to get to this point. With Members set to return from the Memorial Day recess next week, the play-offs are up next. It’s time for everyone to take their game to another level.

So my advice to supporters who are battle weary from pushing a seemingly intractable Senate for more than a year (or more than a decade, as the case may be) with nothing to show for it so far: Take a deep breath. Get some rest over the weekend. And get ready for the defining fight of a generation. The battle for our future has just begun.

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Comments

GinnyJun 4 2010 05:54 PM

I especially like this quote from yesterday's speech, "And it means rolling back billions of dollars in tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development." It's about time!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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