22 July 2010

The US Punts on Climate Legislation

As has happened in Australia (see former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd dealing with climate legislation in the image above) and is likely to occur in Japan the US Senate has decided to put off consideration of climate legislation:

Senate Democrats pulled the plug on climate legislation Thursday, pushing the issue off into an uncertain future ahead of midterm elections where President Barack Obama’s party is girding for a drubbing.

Rather than a long-awaited measure capping greenhouse gases — or even a more limited bill directed only at electric utilities — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will move forward next week on a bipartisan energy-only bill that responds to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and contains other more popular energy items.

As I argued in March, this was entirely predictable (see also this):
Late last year, the Australian government decided to separate energy policy legislation from the emission trading scheme and secure passage of the former while leaving the latter to a later time. Democrats in the US Congress seem keen to do much the same this year.
Reaction to the Senate's decision has been swift. For instance, Joe Romm, in characteristic fashion, has declared the entire Obama Presidency a failure, in the process perhaps unintentionally proving Clive Crook's "good rule of politics":
[I]f you are going to disappoint the left, make it your enemy. Mr Obama has got the worst of both worlds. He pleads for the left’s patience and understanding, certain to be rebuffed. The centre watches, also feeling betrayed, and waits for November.
Andy Revkin, also expressing severe disappointment in Obama's lack of effort on climate, posits that perhaps only a Republican president can enact meaningful climate policy:
Could it be that the White House has concluded what some political analysts have quietly told me — that only a Republican president could muster the Senate votes to pass a meaningful climate bill? That sounds strange initially but isn’t so strange when you consider the history of major environmental legislation and note that a moderate Republican could bring his or her base and lure many Democrats, while a Democrat is unlikely ever to lure sufficient Republican support to get 60 votes on a climate bill.
With the far left and far right in US politics united in anger at Obama, perhaps we'll see Revkin's hypothesis tested sooner rather than later. The reality is that the next Congress is going to be no more friendly to comprehensive climate legislation that the current Congress, as both chambers are going to see large swings toward the Republican party. This means that the chances for comprehensive climate legislation are probably less in the next Congress.

Perhaps this is why The Hill suggests that there is a "growing consensus among green activists" that a delay in considering climate legislation until fall would be OK. That would mean considering the legislation during the "lame duck" session, after the election but before the seating of newly elected representatives and senators in January. The political right is already gearing up for this possibility. I simply cannot see the President pushing to enact anything controversial during a lame duck session after his party suffers large losses in an election that will serve largely as a referendum on his leadership. Were he to do so, he would pretty much seal his fate as a one-term, failed president. Like Bill Clinton, Obama's opportunity to reverse his political fortunes may depend on being drawn to the center by the more Republican congress that he'll have to work with over the next two years.

The bottom line is that the dominant approach to climate change promoted by those calling for action the loudest has failed -- yet again. Really, how much more evidence is needed to convince those calling for action on climate change that a radically new approach is needed?