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Read the Facts--Not the Tea Leaves--About Passing a Climate Bill

Frances Beinecke

Posted January 14, 2010

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Reading tea leaves is a popular pastime in Washington. I have done it myself. But sometimes when you get so focused on the dregs in the teacup, you miss the real-world facts in front of you.

That seems to be the case with predictions about the demise of the clean energy and climate bill in the Senate.

It’s time to take a look at some fact-based indicators about the fate of this bill--including one from the man in charge of the Senate’s agenda.

Majority Leader Reid Says It Will “Happen This Spring”

On Thursday, Senator Harry Reid said that the Senate will be addressing clean energy and climate legislation in the months ahead, saying “I expect that to happen this spring.” (You can read more about his comments here.)

He pushed back affirmatively against speculation that energy and climate legislation would be under a crowded midterm election-year agenda.

He said that while the Senate has a packed agenda, “We are not so busy that we can’t find the time to address comprehensive energy and climate legislation.”

This statement, coming from the majority leader, makes it clear the bill has a firm place on the Senate’s schedule.

Reid also made clear that the legislation must not only cap carbon pollution but must also create a market for carbon credits to help fund incentives to promote renewable energy and energy conservation. "Finally, and perhaps most importantly,” he said. “Congress needs to send the market a clear signal on the costs of global warming pollution to drive far greater investments into geothermal and every other form of renewable energy and energy efficient. We need the markets on our side."

Senate Leadership Supports an Integrated Energy and Climate Bill

In Reid’s comments today, he spoke exclusively about a comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. He did not suggest voting on a bill that only focuses on energy, as some have suggested.

Indeed, Reid underscored the need to tap the power of the markets to inspire clean energy innovation and investment--something that can best be done by taking an integrated approach to climate and energy policy.

Likewise, Senator Kerry, who together with Senators Graham and Lieberman, is in the lead on this issue, recently stated his views on splitting up energy and climate:

"It's a horrible idea. If you separate climate from energy reform, you slow your ability to create those clean jobs because every market expert tells you those energy reforms can't take hold unless you price carbon. Unless you do something comprehensive you're just going a more expensive, less effective route and you'll keep trailing other countries."

The White House Is Committed to Getting a Bill Passed

Also today, Todd Stern, the U.S. envoy on climate change, addressed a group of private investors concerned about climate change at the United Nations.

Stern said that President Obama intends to move forward with climate legislation this year. "There will be a significant effort on the part of all in the administration to press forward. The president is focused on it, and the White House is focused on it."

That is exactly what the President told me when I met with him in December. His actions in Copenhagen only confirmed his commitment to rolling up his sleeves and hammering out an agreement.

It Is No Secret NRDC Supports Limits on Carbon Emissions

In the midst of trying to divine what is in store for climate legislation, Inside EPA (subscription required) mistakenly concluded that because I did not use the phrase “cap and trade” in a recent blog post about Carol Browner, NRDC does not support this tool for addressing global warming.

The author simply read too much into the tea leaves. One only has to go to NRDC’s website or Switchboard blog to conclude that when we say we support clean energy and climate legislation, that means we back clear, comprehensive limits on carbon pollution--limits that tighten over time to meet what science say we must do to stabilize the climate.

Our position on that hasn’t changed. It can’t, because the science hasn’t changed.

If the Tea Leaves Aren’t Working, Why Keeping Using Them?

Recent predictions about the death of clean energy and climate legislation are rarely based on the facts.

Plenty of people thought similar legislation would fail in the House, and they were wrong. Plenty of people think major environmental legislation won’t get passed in an election year, and they are wrong about that too (read about some examples here).

Perhaps these voices keep calling for the bill’s funeral because they want to attend it. I am planning to attend its signing instead.

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Gregory NormintonJan 15 2010 12:54 PM

For all our sakes, I hope you are right.

As a European who grew up looking to America as a dynamic and innovative country - a leader, for all its faults - it is dismaying to see the power of the antiscience ideologues and one section - Big Carbon - of the economy in thwarting progress. Germany has just set a 40% CO2 cut target for 2020. Britain is on 34% and may up it to 42%. Here in Scotland, we have a 42% target already. And yet there are dozens of Senators in the US who say America can't even manage 17% in the same time. This kind of defeatism - and backwardness - seems to me deeply unAmerican: let alone a major threat to our children's welfare. So don't lose faith, NRDC, and all friends across the Atlantic. The climate change fight is a test of moral fortitude. It must be won. But if things fail in the Senate, the whole world will lose momentum. So once again our common fate is in your hands.

Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co.Jan 17 2010 09:08 PM

NRDC seems to not be taking note that things are difficult for a lot of people in the "developed world" right now. Asking for government action that will add a burden to folks not in such great shape seems a little off the mark. This could turn out to be a significant impediment to economic recovery since it would work to discourage activities that are based on energy use.

Solving the global warming problem with heavy handed and ill timed government action should be seriously considered. It might be better to advocate for efficient infrastructure and efficient systems that we use to carry on our lives. In concert with this kind of advancements, measures that might encourage better fuel choices might accomplish a positive result.

Frances BeineckeJan 19 2010 05:07 PM

Greg, thanks for the vote of confidence. I agree that America has the innovative spirit to tackle this challenge.

Jim, I appreciate your concern about the hard times Americans are facing. NRDC is concerned about it too, and we think passing a clean energy and climate bill will offer the help American families need right now.

For starters, it will create nearly two million jobs, according to economists at the University of California.

About 614,000 of these new green jobs will be available to workers with few educational credentials, but they still offer opportunities for promotion and rising wages--giving workers a chance to lift their families out of poverty.

The bill will also include the kind of efficiency measures you mentioned. The climate bill the House passed in June had provisions not only for making low-income households more energy efficiency (a measure that would cut living costs by 3 to 4 percent), but also a long list of efficiency measures for all Americans.

NRDC found that Americans in nearly every state will save an average of $5.99 a month on their utility bills thanks to these efficiency programs. Even in the few states where savings compared to business-as-usual are not projected, bills will still be lower under the House climate bill than they were in 2007.

It is because of real savings like these and because of the enormous opportunity to create good paying jobs that Green for All and other social justice organizations support the clean energy and climate legislation.

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