Did Obama Kill the Climate Bill?


Update: Kate Sheppard reports on what actually made it into the  Senate’s energy package.

The Senate’s climate bill is officially dead. And given that Democrats will almost certainly hold fewer seats in Congress next year, major action on the climate is unlikely to be revived anytime soon. Andrew Revkin, Joe Romm, and Tim Dickinson place a fair share of the blame on Obama. From Dickinson’s widely-quoted Rolling Stone piece yesterday:

Handled correctly, the BP spill should have been to climate legislation what September 11th was to the Patriot Act, or the financial collapse was to the bank bailout. Disasters drive sweeping legislation, and precedent was on the side of a great leap forward in environmental progress. In 1969, an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California – of only 100,000 barrels, less than the two-day output of the BP gusher – prompted Richard Nixon to create the EPA and sign the Clean Air Act. But the Obama administration let the opportunity slip away.

Early on, Obama failed to challenge blowhards such as Senator Jim Inhofe who distorted the science of global warming. Revkin points out that the president has not invited researchers and climate analysts to the White House (as even Bush did). And after BP’s well blew out, Obama’s infamously milquetoast address from the Oval Office never connected the disaster with the need for a cap on carbon. All of this wasn’t for a lack of pressure from his allies. Nine high-profile environmental groups wrote a letter to the president pleading that “nothing less than your direct personal involvement” will break the logjam in the Senate. Al Gore ultimately said what Obama wouldn’t:

Placing a limit on global-warming pollution and accelerating the deployment of clean energy technologies is the only truly effective long-term solution to this crisis. Now it is time for the Senate to act. In the midst of the greatest environmental disaster in our history, there is no excuse to do otherwise.

Of course, there’s always an excuse in Washington. Voting for a climate bill might hurt the reelection prospects of swing-state Democrats. The Senate, exhausted in the wake of its tough votes heath care and financial reform, might have never overcome a filibuster. And, to be fair, Obama has already done more for the climate than any president before him. But no matter: The confluence of a huge Democratic congressional majority and a huge ecological catastrophe wrought by the fossil fuel industry could have presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rewrite the rules of climate politics. With a little bit of leadership. Unfortunately, a little bit of leadership on the climate is more than we’ve got right now.

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