Henry Waxman, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and lead author of the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House in June, is among the official US delegation attending the Copenhagen summit. On Thursday, Waxman and five other Democratic representatives made the case that this legislation, among other things, is evidence that Americans are engaged on the issue of climate change and looking to move forward on an international accord.
By Friday, the mood on reaching an agreement in Copenhagen had dimmed, and President Barack Obama and US negotiators were still deep in discussions with other nations late into the afternoon. I caught a few minutes with Waxman shortly after Obama's speech to gauge his opinion on the negotiations and the likelihood that the US will be able to deliver a climate law similar to his bill.
Mother Jones: How are you feeling about the state of negotiations, especially after President Obama's remarks today?
Waxman: President Obama gave an excellent speech, and just said to everybody, the bottom line is we're all in this together. We need binding agreements, we must reduce the carbon emissions. He just told everybody in this conference not to dither, but to get to work. He himself has been in serious negotiations. I hope he's successful.
Mother Jones: Do you think there's an opportunity for a breakthrough here?
Waxman: I'm not sure. A lot will depend on China. If China agrees to quantifiable and verifiable reductions in carbon emissions and not to be part of the requirements that are placed on everybody else, even though they're the world's number one emitter of carbon pollution now, then I don't see what agreement can be reached, except maybe a framework for future discussions, but not the kind of agreement we'd all hoped for.
Mother Jones: What influence do you think the outcome here will have on the Senate and finishing off the bill you started in the House?
Waxman: I think a good result from the Copenhagen conference would be very helpful in influencing people in the United States and their representatives in the US Senate. But our legislation is not for the world. Our legislation is for the US interests, and our interest is to become for our national security purposes less dependent on foreign oil. We need the jobs that will be created by the technology that will result from [reducing] carbon emissions, and we need to reduce the carbon as well in order to reduce the threat to our environment.