Sunday, July 25, 2010

Climate Legislation: Where Do We Go Now?

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid essentially sounded the death knell for climate legislation this year when he announced that nothing substantive would be addressed until the autumn (and in my estimation, even addressing it at that point is nothing but a big question mark). Instead, the Senate in the coming week will take up a bill that is directed primarily at a response to the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico as well as addressing natural gas technology.

If you look at where the Senate is now as compared to where the House of Representatives was last year, the first question that comes to mind is, "What happened?" Last year, there seemed to be a big push to get a major climate change bill passed by Congress and signed by the President, ideally in time for the beginning of the Copenhagen climate conference. The House passed a bill on a razor-thin vote of 219-212, one which - while well-intentioned - could have been a disaster for business, industry, and consumers.

Despite my misgivings over passing any legislation which leads to higher taxes or increased energy costs for Americans, I still feel that the environment needs protection - and that it will take a mixture of the citizenry, business, and a small bit of government (but not so much as to put the entire onus of leadership on Washington) in order to accomplish that. Taking all of that into account, who do we blame for the current situation? If you are a Democrat, you blame Republicans; if you are a Republican, you blame Democrats; if you are an industry, you blame the environmentalists; if you are an environmentalist, you blame industry and trade groups.

But shouldn't the fault be shared by everyone? In his column in today's New York Times, columnist Tom Friedman addressed that very thing: "I could blame Republicans for the fact that not one G.O.P. senator indicated a willingness to vote for a bill that would put the slightest price on carbon. I could blame the Democratic senators who were also waffling. I could blame President Obama for his disappearing act on energy and spending more time reading the polls than changing the polls. I could blame the Chamber of Commerce and the fossil-fuel lobby for spending bags of money to subvert this bill. But the truth is, the public, confused and stressed by the last two years, never got mobilized to press for this legislation. We will regret it."

Let's get the finger-pointing out of our system - it should suffice that nothing got done, and two years have been wasted on arguments and blame. We should now ask ourselves where we go from here. This session of Congress is obviously a wash, but what about the next? Depending on the results of the November elections and the make-up of Congress beginning in January, will the GOP and Democrats view any changes as any indication that they need to try harder to work together on this issue? Or will they - as most would seem to feel - make the situation in Washington even more divisive and toxic and continue to bog down on all fronts?

As the members of the House and Senate spend their August recess back in their states and districts, I hope they think long and hard on this issue -all of us are waiting to see what they do next...