The President's Strategy and Climate Change Legislation

Richard Matthews

The President remains committed to advancing his stalled legislative agenda. Addressing the Democratic National Committee in Washington last Saturday, Obama insisted he is not going to let go of his aspirations for America. "I'm not going to walk away from the American people," he said. "I'm not going to walk away on any challenge."

debating climate change legislation

However, Senators from Red States, Coal States, and Rust Belt States are concerned about job losses and increased costs associated with a climate bill. Many lawmakers are also concerned about controlling the emissions of rapidly developing nations like India and China.

Republican Senators are virtually unanimous in their resistance to the Democrat's legislative efforts and with the recent Republican win in Massachusetts, they now have the numbers they need to block legislation.

In this hostile political and economic climate, the chances of passing meaningful climate change legislation seem bleak. However, Steve Eule, the US Chamber of Commerce vice president held out hope that a solution can be reached. "It's possible to have a compromise" he said, "but it won't be easy.”

Despite the power shift in the Senate, President Obama can still get things done. With 41 Republicans and 59 potential Democratic and Independent votes in the Senate, President Obama has a wider majority than the four Presidents that preceeded him. Presidents Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton and G.W. Bush were all able to achieve significant legislative victories with less support than Obama currently enjoys in the Senate.

The President has repeatedly stated that he is open to new ideas and he is willing to compromise. In his State of the Union address, Obama indicated that he supports incentives for domestic oil and gas exploration, nuclear plants, as well as provisions that help energy intensive industries that are vulnerable to foreign competitors.

While the President continues his ongoing appeal for bipartisanship, in the Senate, Democrats are working on a more modest package of climate and energy measures. To ease the passage of energy legislation, there is talk of eliminating the cap-and-trade component of the plan. Senate moderates from both parties including Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), and Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) are all pushing for an energy only approach without putting a price on carbon emissions.

"It's the 'kick the can down the road' approach," said Sen.Graham. "It's putting off to another Congress what really needs to be done comprehensively. I don't think you'll ever have energy independence the way I want until you start dealing with carbon pollution and pricing carbon. The two are interconnected."

Cap-and-trade is a core feature of a comprehensive climate change package. The key is making clean energy profitable. "The market works best when it responds to price." the President said, "And if they start seeing that dirty energy is a little pricier, clean energy is a little cheaper, they'll innovate and they'll think things through in all kinds of ways."

The American public is frustrated by all the political gridlock. Obama's strategy to advance his legislative agenda involves drawing Republicans into a public debate. The President has been engaging resistant legislators in front of the camera and he has indicated that he will hold a televised health care reform summit later this month. Televised debates will put the onus on the Republicans to offer ideas instead of just criticism, it will also expose obstructionists.

Republicans would do well to remember that in 1995 the GOP was blamed for shutting down the government. If Republicans avoid debate, block legislation or even hold up the President's nominations, they risk being punished at the polls.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.


Climate Politics & Policy