The much-needed and long-awaited climate change and energy bill died last week after an extended illness. The causes: a dearth of political will, assorted strategic errors and an incurable lack of leadership.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the grim announcement, pulling the plug on essential efforts to cap greenhouse gas emissions and speed the transition to renewable energy sources. He mourned the lack of votes but gathered himself quickly to point fingers, saying the absence of GOP support was “terribly disappointing.”
The truth is that it took two parties to doom this bill.
Heaping blame on Republicans in this case is easy and reasonably justified. Not a single GOP senator would sign on to the idea of putting a price on carbon. Even Republicans who previously offered such support did an about-face and refocused their energy on derailing this legislation.
But Democrats managed to hammer a few of their own nails in the coffin of a comprehensive energy bill.
With Democrats controlling both chambers and a president promising to heal a planet in peril, locking down the support of majority-party senators should have been the easy part. But some Democrats wavered until the end, raising questions about possible defections.
Worse, Reid couldn’t bring himself to put passing this legislation at the top of his to-do list. During the Democrats’ 19 months at the helm, other issues routinely catapulted ahead the climate bill. When Reid suggested in April that immigration would suddenly leapfrog energy, he lost the support of South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, a key to building the coalitions needed to gain a supermajority in the Senate.
Along the way, key officials waffled on important details, trying out cap-and-trade and dabbling in cap-and-dividend proposals. Eventually, the BP disaster in the gulf diverted attention, too.
Now Congress will wrestle with stripped-down energy legislation that bears little resemblance to its former self. In a separate spending bill, loan guarantees for additional nuclear power projects also are endangered, potentially leaving NRG’s South Texas Project in limbo. A nuclear expansion is essential to weaning ourselves from fossil fuels and to limiting emissions; Congress can’t afford to excise that from our energy portfolio.
While some nuclear projects are imperiled, carbon caps are dead and gone in this Congress. Left undone this year will be addressing the consequences of climate change and continued dependence on foreign oil.
Congress is playing a dangerous game, putting national security interests and the environment at risk. By failing to attach a price to pollution now, lawmakers force us all to pay a steeper price down the road.
Leaders did us a disservice by killing off this legislation. The comprehensive energy bill — as well as voters — deserved better.