As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Making Them Do It On Climate Change

Making Them Do It On Climate Change

by dday

Regarding Digby's musing about kabuki, even if this is a game for the cameras to give Obama space to his left, it doesn't mean that progressives shouldn't rally to Kerry and Conrad and make the argument. In fact, it seems to me that is the whole purpose - to "make Obama do it," as it were, and create a bottom-up movement for a real, liberal stimulus with a focus on job creation. Which progressives ought to do. Because there are certainly counter-vailing forces inside the Obama team (I wouldn't guess that Larry Summers is necessarily in on the game) who have the ear of the President-elect, and so even if this is kabuki it would work better with a grassroots response.

There's another area in which progressives need to speak up and not assume that our betters in Washington have everything covered, and that's on the issue of climate change. It looks as if the House has been reorganizing for the sole purpose to pass meaningful climate legislation, be that a cap and trade or a carbon tax. Henry Waxman deposed John Dingell as hed of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Dingell's coal-state partner in obstruction, Rick Boucher, was hustled out the door as well.

As Kate reported earlier today, new House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is reorganizing the committee, unifying oversight of climate, energy, air quality, and water issues under a single subcommittee: the Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

The Boston Globe just broke the news that Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will chair the new subcommittee.

Right now Markey chairs the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, and reportedly enjoys working on telecom policy. Due to his seniority, he had his choice of subcommittees this session -- which meant he could, if he wanted, take the reins of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee from coal lover and Dingell ally Rick Boucher (D-Va.). That alone would have been, as Joe noted the other day, "almost as big a deal as Waxman defeating Dingell for committee chair."

But now Waxman has consolidated environment and energy jurisdiction in one subcommittee. Gone is the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, chaired by Gene Green [D-Texas], another Dingell ally [...]

The Energy and Environment Subcommittee has something the Select Committee does not: legislative jurisdiction. It will be the key subcommittee pushing climate/energy legislation through the House.

(Boucher moves to that Telecom and Internet subcommittee, and he's been pretty good on that issue.)

This seems like a very grand setup for bold action to combat climate change, engineered by Waxman and Nancy Pelosi.

Then why is Pelosi telling Energy & Environment News that the House won't be getting around to climate legislation this year? (Sub. reqd. for E&E, so forgive the link to National Review's "Planet Gore" denial site. They think this is a sign that the planet's actually cooling and Democrats are quietly burying the issue. Someone forgot to tell the scientists!)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said today that she has enough votes to pass cap-and-trade legislation aimed at curbing the effects of global warming but would not commit to holding a vote in 2009.

Speaking to reporters in the Capitol, Pelosi said she has sufficient backing in the Democratic-controlled House to move a cap-and-trade bill, but will not force the issue. "I'm not sure this year, because I don't know if we'll be ready," Pelosi said. "We won't go before we're ready."

Pelosi acknowledged the December deadline looming over U.N. negotiations toward a new international climate change agreement. "We're sensitive to Copenhagen and the rest of that," she said, referring to the Denmark capital that will host the next annual U.N. conference. "And it's a very high priority for me." [...]

Incoming House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) will take the lead in 2009 on a climate cap-and-trade bill. But to date, Waxman has not spelled out his plans for that legislation.

"To be determined," replied Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Pelosi's point person on global warming issues, when asked today about prospects for global warming legislation. . . .

Asked about her expectations for the timing of cap-and-trade legislation, Pelosi replied, "I don't know what the timetable will be. A lot of that will relate to how quickly we get through the recovery, whatever else we're doing, and when the bill will be ready. I don't think it's ready."

I spoke to Frank O'Donnell from Clean Air Watch about this yesterday. He agreed that this seems incongruous, given all the work done to change around committees and put the best people on this issue in charge of it. "But why isn't this a top-line issue?" O'Donnell wondered. "Maybe Pelosi is just being cautious, but the stars seem to be aligned as well as they could be."

Certainly one would think that you don't want to try for major climate legislation in 2010, during the midterm elections. Although, given that green energy initiatives are very popular, and seeing all the Republicans greenwashing themselves during the most recent elections, that could be the calculation. But of course, that wastes another year at a time when more Arctic ice is melting and more greenhouse gases are being spewed into the atmosphere. Not to mention the fact that conference committees and reconciliation bills can extend this process for months.

I'm wondering whether this reluctance to act is due to the Obama team's uncertainty on which way to go, and the conflicts among his top advisers (there's that Larry Summers again).

In the fall of 1997, when the Clinton administration was forming its position for the Kyoto climate treaty talks, Lawrence H. Summers argued that the United States would risk damaging the domestic economy if it set overly ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions.

Lawrence H. Summers, left, and Peter R. Orszag, leaders of the Obama economic team, say a cap-and-trade system should include a “safety valve” against high prices of pollution permits.

Mr. Summers, then the deputy Treasury secretary, said at the time that there was a compelling scientific case for action on global warming but that a too-rapid move against emissions of greenhouse gases risked dire and unknowable economic consequences.

His view prevailed over those of officials arguing for tougher standards, among them Carol M. Browner, then the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and her mentor, Al Gore, then the vice president.

Today, as the climate-change debate once again heats up, Mr. Summers leads the economic team of the incoming administration, and Ms. Browner has been designated its White House coordinator of energy and climate policy. And Mr. Gore is hovering as an informal adviser to President-elect Barack Obama.

As Mr. Obama seeks to find the right balance between his environmental goals and his plans to revive the economy, he may have to resolve conflicting views among some of his top advisers.

To be sure, Obama has shown a desire to implement an expansive green jobs plan and fold energy issues into the overall recovery package. But there seems like reluctance on setting climate targets. O'Donnell said that he wouldn't doubt that Pelosi was deferring on this. "Barabara Boxer has been quoted saying that she's willing to do something simpler and more bare-bones and let Obama's team fill in the blanks."

Once again, I think this is a case where progressives need to be the squeaky wheel. It makes no sense to constitute an environmental dream team in the House and then slow-walk whatever legislation they can pass. The world cannot wait for American leadership on this, and any delay will just increase the needed targets and cause more pain. The House must act. We have to make them do it.

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