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Senate Obstructionism Leads to Abject Failure on Energy and Climate

Peter Lehner

Posted July 22, 2010

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A minority of Senators has blocked the United States Senate from protecting our children’s and our country’s future. Because of their denial and obstructionism, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that the Senate cannot take up comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation at this time.

This is an abject failure, one that rests in the hands of the Senate Republican Leadership and a small cluster of Democratic Senators.

These short-sighted few are failing to invest in job-producing clean energy, failing to secure us from despotic regimes that sell oil and failing to confront runaway global warming. They are fiddling while Rome burns.

Their failure means that we will continue to send a billion dollars a day overseas to buy oil, that China will continue to race ahead in creating the jobs of the future and that pollution will continue to increase at home. In short, as our colleagues at Clean Energy Works said this afternoon, “China will get more of our jobs, the Middle East more of our money and Americans will be left with fewer jobs and more pollution.”

We are in the midst of the hottest year on record, and the number of natural disasters has more than doubled since 1980. Meanwhile, a new NRDC study shows that 1 out of every 3 U.S. counties will face water shortages by the year 2050.

This is the future that a handful of Senators would leave our children.

Instead of dealing with the disastrous economic, health, and security consequences of unchecked climate change, these politically motivated senators are using a filibuster to thwart the will of the majority in the House, the Senate, and the American public who want to solve global warming with clean energy investments that will unleash hundreds of billions in investment to create good jobs and insure our global competitiveness.

This kind of political gamesmanship is not what America needs right now. We need to confront this crisis.

The pollution that causes global warming is a gusher many times the size of the Gulf oil spill. Long after the Deepwater Horizon well is finally killed, we will regret the Senate’s failure this summer to cap carbon pollution. And we will remember these politicians very unkindly.

It is not too late for politicians of both parties – out of self-interest if not love of country – to lift their blockade of America’s future. There is still time before this Congress departs for the year to get the right legislation enacted, one that limits carbon pollution, ends our oil dependence, and creates the new, clean-energy jobs throughout the country.
But to accomplish this, we must use the August town halls to raise our voices and tell our elected officials that we do not accept failure in the face of one of the biggest crises of the 21st century.
Surely America can respond to this challenge with resolve and ingenuity instead of paralysis. Surely that is what our children deserve: our best efforts at protecting their futures.

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Michael KelmJul 22 2010 08:41 PM

Yes, yes, yes.... We are now in Africa fighting over oil ... And I ask that all people try and see the HBO special.. "Gasland " You must see this movie !!!!!

Wes BilenkiJul 22 2010 10:21 PM

The first thing we need to do is get BIG money out of Washington.Televise EVERY vote on every bill that way nothing can be voted on at the 11 hour (ie giving raises without the public being aware before it happens) Watchdog groups need to be part of the government not looked upon as outsiders. Elected officials WILL be held accountable for their actions(imbezilling,sexual know the stuff us NORMAL folk are accountable for.)
Pay our officials on performance..You work hard for the people you get paid well, you F-up you're outta here...and you get NO pension...And working for the betterment of mankind(NOT JUST YOUR PARTY) will be looked upon as a GOOD THING ,doing things that only pad your pocket is punishable by a firing squad.
And above and beyond everything & everyone else JUST DO THE RIGHT THING!!!!! If you don't know what that is YOU SHOULDN"T BE IN OFFICE!!!!!


ChrisJul 23 2010 05:13 PM

Can NRDC please post the names of the Senators that have "blocked the United States Senate from protecting our children’s and our country’s future."

This would be helpful.


Jim BullisJul 25 2010 04:38 PM

Peter Lehner,

It seems like your position is more adversarial than constructive. This leads to statements that add to confusion rather than reduce it. I suggest there are good reasons and bad reasons why the climate bill should have failed. Let's ignore the bad reasons. As to real problems, some thinking might be appropriate, and maybe a better way forward can be found.

Was the climate bill going to reduce the use of oil? No, I think it was going to put the heaviest penalty on coal usage. In general this was going to increase the need for oil. The argument is not simple. Penalizing coal could result in shift to natural gas, but I suggest that this could turn out badly.

We have been told that there is abundant natural gas in the USA, but this seems to involve some environmentally destructive processes that are not fullly disclosed.

Even the basic assertion that there is much natural gas depends on estimates of reserves that are mis-portrayed. I believe it was a man named Lipper on NBR who said that the price point for estimating reserves was $7.50 per MMBTU. If the happy estimates were re-calculated today with natural gas at $4.50, we might be seriously disappointed with the future prospects for natural gas. This development is not lost on such as Chesapeake Energy who recently announced reduction in the number of rigs devoted to natural gas exploration.

Then we need to take seriously the fact that reserves are now stated in terms of time they would last at the current rate of usage. If coal were made more costly for electric power generation than natural gas, there would indeed be a shift to natural gas, but that shift alone could cause a more correct estimate of time expected for reserves to last to be something like half that stated time.

And the further problem is that the price of natural gas should be expected to rise dramatically if usage rate were to double. Then it would be necessary to further adjust the cost of coal with another climate bill.

So the shift to natural gas seems like something we should not expect to go smoothly. The main outcome seems likely to be a much higher price for electricity and a lot of profit for natural gas marketing folks.

Next comes the impact on the also ill planned move to electric vehicles. Heavy penalties on coal and the ensuing changes as discussed above that end in much higher priced electricity will throw expectations for electric cars in disarray. But also, if natural gas does not work out as hoped, then the electric car will be mostly powered by coal based electric power generation.

The next line of thought that seems valid is how the world economy is fairing. The developed world seems to be in a little trouble from my perspective. Taking stock in general, I think most of us in the developed world prefer being where we are. But we need to take note that the fact of being developed is due to a capability to produce products. Those of us who relate to the industrial production system might see a looming problem if the energy basis of that system were to be undermined. Note also that we have been coming up short in the trade balance with emerging countries for many years now. the biggest mystery in my world is how we have managed to stay in the 'developed' category with our high cost of production weighing us down. So even though I share your concern about CO2, I am seriously doubting that heavy handed clamps on use of fossil fuels might be delayed some.

I would nominate ignorance as the greatest pollution, closely followed by corruption, and then excess greed. These permeate the atmosphere on top of CO2. This could go on too long, so I will just make comments on ignorance.

It seems perplexing to me that the attempt to convince people about global warming has led to a degeneration of simple chemistry in order to appeal to the most ignorant with maximum word impact. Hence we have come to think of 'carbon' as the stuff that goes into the air, rather than CO2. When I see the word 'carbon' used, I instantly conclude that the writer has never attempted a quantitative calculation about 'tons of CO2' per year etc. A quick try at that would show how fundamentally idiotic this is. "A minor point," you might say, and of course it is that, but it is symptomatic of how science is being mis-handled in order to construct sixth grade explanations, and it sometimes turns into very bad conclusions. And this can lead to very bad public policy.

A more substantive area of ignorance is in the application of the laws of physics regarding energy conversion. These rather solid descriptions of energy processes are most notably being ignored in the promotion and regulations regarding electric vehicles. What we have ended with is a widespread mis-conception about the effect of electric vehicles on the CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. And well meaning environmentalists have been deceived in order to make them strident campaigners for a mistaken concept, and there will be more CO2, rather than less when the current fad plays out.

I have many things to suggest, but the most recent thing to come up is the idea that we take another look at the way water is used and shared. Perhaps the enthusiasm for reducing CO2 could be a force to re-examine water distribution, North to South in North America. The many environmental ramifications are important, but maybe a new balance here might be pursued.

That is enough for now, but I would be interested in dialog that could help lead us to constructive actions.

Jim Bullis, Miastrada CompanyJul 26 2010 04:14 PM

Previously, I opened the discussion (that, and the present comment were commented at the Open EPA site) of how we might find a new way to solve both the CO2 problem based on water distribution changes in North America. This has extensive ramifications that would apply to other parts of the world as well. There are significant environmental issues that would need to be constructively resolved, or at least, sensitively traded relative to importance of the effects.

The possibilities in regard to water re-distribution are limited when they are limited to actions within national boundaries, though some examples could be established within the United States, for example. The truly significant change would be enabled with international treaty with Canada and the United States, where the extreme amounts of fresh water in Northern Canada would be carried by aquaduct to distribution centers all over North America. Mexico could gainfully be included.

Consider the possibilities:
Transformation of vast desert or under-productive areas into on-going green regions. Where these would become standing forests, or forests to be harvested for long lasting wood products, there would be a significant gain in CO2 capture. Where these would be crop-lands capable of producing vast amounts of grain for world use, we would see much alleviating of world hunger. When food supplies were to become adequate, production of ethanol as fuel would become conscionable. If growing areas in Mexico could become vastly larger than they are now, the forces driving illegal immigration would be moderated. Sounds good, huh?

It would be necessary to design mitigating alternatives to the presently wild running waterways that we now are struggling to sustain. Those who are terribly upset about the CO2 problem and the failure of the climate legislation that would clamp down on this emission might take a fresh look at this problem.

When EPA considers further imposition of CO2 limiting regulations I would hope they would open new possibilities such as I have discussed as an alternative to heavy handed actions that could have serious detrimental effect on the developed world's economy.

I refer in particular to the notion that 'carbon' capture should be imposed to the extent of 'best available technology.' This term is frightening to contemplate, since it would apparently involve compressing CO2 such that it could be pipelined and pumped underground. There is something fundamentally at odds in the concept that a heat engine that extracts mechanical energy by the expansion of gas, could be effectively charged with the task of returning that gas to compressed state. Somewhere it has been glibly stated that a 30% burden would be applicable; I have not done a complete analysis, but this seems somehow to be the kind of number that could only come from Tinker Bell Institute of Technology. That hallowed institution has many branches throughout the developed world. (Tinker Bell Institute of Technology and Tinker Tech are trademarks of myself use freely but acknowledge.)

Miastrada Company is engaged in planning for the future, and has offered a list of large scale solutions to the global warming problem. These include high efficiency automobiles, heavy trucks and special roadways, cogeneration of electricity using hybrid vehicles as generators and associated households as users of heat, conversion of household heating devices to natural gas to eliminate the heat loss of central power plants. On the negative but necessary side, the Miastrada Plan shows the necessity of killing the electric car as it is presently emerging and killing the enhanced power distribution grid. The electric car should re-emerge as a multiple powered system driving a basic vehicle form that does not require significant energy. The power distribution grid should re-emerge as something truly intelligent where distributed sources would replace the central power plants that we base our electricity system on. ( Some of this is discussed at, a not profitable site.)

Brad ArnoldJul 29 2010 01:52 AM

Here is what Climate Code Red says:

--Human emissions have so far produced a global average temperature increase of 0.8 degree C.

--There is another 0.6 degree C. to come due to "thermal inertia", or lags in the system, taking the total long-term global warming induced by human emissions so far to 1.4 degree C.

--If human total emissions continue as they are to 2030 (and don't increase 60% as projected) this would likely add more than 0.4 degrees C. to the system in the next two decades, taking the long-term effect by 2030 to at least 1.7 degrees C. (A 0.3 degree C. increase is predicted for the period 2004-2014 alone by Smith, Cusack et al, 2007).

--Then add the 0.3 degree C. albedo flip effect from the now imminent loss of the Arctic sea ice, and the rise in the system by 2030 is at least 2 degree. C, assuming very optimistically that emissions don't increase at all above their present annual rate! When we consider the potential permafrost releases and the effect of carbon sinks losing capacity, we are on the road to a hellish future, not for what we will do, but WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY DONE.

"The alternative (to geoengineering) is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity and a return to an Earth that freely regulates itself but in the hot state." --Dr James Lovelock, August 2008

Brad ArnoldJul 29 2010 03:56 PM

Brad Arnold,

You and Dr. Lovelock seem to be skipping to a level of reaction that might be over-reaction.

I agree that present calls to action lack substance or practicality. Presuming that your idea of geoengineering is a level of atmospheric intervention involving artificially generated aerosols, my reaction to that is that it carries risk that is not acceptable to those of us who think our knowledge of atmospheric processes is an inadequate basis for such interventional actions. And while it is quite definite that we have a global warming problem, it is not at all clear how the planet will react to excess CO2; so it is not at all called for to engage in precipitous actions to combat it. This is especially true given the availavility of real measures that would also suffice.

Such measures, though relatively mild compared to geoengineering, still need to be thoughtfully designed. I am suggesting that we re-examine the basis of our developed industrial society with an eye to finding ways to solve the problem without sending ourselves back to grinding grain in mortars and pounding laundry out on rocks in the river. More seriously, I would like to see us maintain the functioning urban life styles that I believe maximize human potential.

What I seem to be encountering is resistance to change based on closed minds for surprisingly inane reasons, along with a level of ignorance that is hard to penetrate, even with simple analytical arguments. The inane reasons include adherence to popular trends and fashion and a need to express ourselves according to notions established by our media experiences.

Our functioning urban life styles are critically dependent on efficient transportation, where efficiency begins with efficiency in how we use our time and also includes energy efficiency. Right thinking requires that safety also be high on the list of priorities.

The biggest gain for the developed world can come from re-thinking how we ride in cars. And no, this does not mean how we might get rid of cars. It means that by simply noting that nearly half the waste of energy in automobiles is due to our compulsion to have capacity to carry two people side by side, in spite of the fact that this is infrequently utilized. And by so noting, how might vehicles be better configured. By drawing on old technology and fairly simple engineering it is easy to construct single wide vehicles that would require a small fraction of the energy to move fast that is now considered reasonable. General adoption of such thinking could cut CO2 emitted by the developed world by a substantial fraction.

It has not been surprising that the fad driven public finds such possible configurations repugnant. Neither is it surprising that those who are mostly interested in alleviating the oil dependency problem would find these to be unnecessary, for all that is needed is to shift to coal based electricity to drive cars. The surprising thing is that those who are seemingly dedicated to solving the environmental crisis respond hardly at all, and when they do it is more often with hostility because it obviates the need for their favorite solutions. I particularly chide the plug-in car enthusiasts for unwittingly promoting a solution that would be helpful in solving the oil dependency problem, but would accomplish nothing or less with respect to CO2 emissions.

I continue to use a variety of comment opportunities, such as here at NRDC, in conjunction with the website at: to probe for reactions from the public of the developed world, and on, but have not only uncovered nothing that could be called enthusiasm from the general public, but neither has there been much thoughtful interest from the environmentally vocal public. Even further, there has been little success in exciting technological interest.

Instead, there seems to be a lot of buzz about geoengineering that nobody really understands.

Brad ArnoldJul 29 2010 04:00 PM

to Brad Arnold

Something strange happened to my last comment, which resulted in your name being the header.

Sorry if this confuses things. I have no idea why it happened.

Jim Bullis, Miastrada CompanyJul 29 2010 04:04 PM


I am not Brad Arnold!!!!!

This is not intentional identify theft!!!!!

Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company

Comments are closed for this post.


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