Bad for Copenhagen?

I recently was chatting with one of the folks who run Organizing for America, the offshoot of the Barack Obama presidential campaign that is now housed within the Democratic Party, and I mentioned that I thought OFA had come late to the climate change party—meaning that it had only moved to mobilize its millions of supporters in support of the cap and trade bill a few days before the legislation hit the House floor this past Friday. I got no argument. And it’s even arguable that the Obama-backed Waxman-Markey bill barely passed (219-212) partly because the White House did not put much of its organizing muscle behind the measure.

Sure, a win is a win. But this narrow victory will certainly embolden the bill’s opponents for the next—and more difficult—round: the Senate, which may or may not take up similar legislation in the fall.

This close win might also make life more difficult for the US official whose job it is to save the planet: Todd Stern, the Obama administration’s climate envoy. He’s now preparing for the Copenhagen conference, scheduled for December, where a successor to the Kyoto climate change accord is supposed to be negotiated. One of Stern’s big jobs is to persuade China, India, and other developing nations to cut back on their rising emissions of greenhouse gasses. But to have a chance of doing that he has to show them that the United States, the number-one emitter in historic and per capita terms, is serious about reducing its own emissions. Foreign governments looking for a sign of US seriousness could take a 219-212 vote (for a bill that will not reduce emissions as quickly as some scientists call for) as a mixed signal.

For more on Stern and the tough position he’s in, see my just-posted article on him.

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