Weekly Mulch: A Bipartisan Climate Bill

Raquel Brown

The U.S. might not have to go to December's climate change talks in Copenhagen empty handed. Two weeks after Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) unveiled a new draft of the climate change bill, Kerry and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced their bipartisan partnership to pass climate change legislation in an op-ed for the New York Times. By working together, the two hope to appeal to their respective party's interests and help the climate change bill get 60 votes in the Senate. The bipartisan bill will require compromise from both sides, according to Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly. Kerry and Graham plan to expand the Kerry-Boxer bill. It uses a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions, includes more nuclear investments, additional drilling, and incentives for companies to develop clean coal. As Kerry and Graham wrote in their op-ed: “Conventional wisdom suggests that the prospect of Congress passing a comprehensive climate change bill soon is rapidly approaching zero. … However, we refuse to accept the argument that the United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate change. We are also convinced that we have found both a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future that will revitalize our economy, protect current jobs and create new ones, safeguard our national security and reduce pollution.” Their joint declaration is significant because, as Dan Lashof stresses for Grist, “It establishes comprehensive energy and climate legislation as the next item on the Senate agenda after health care reform, meaning there is a very real shot at Senate passage prior to Copenhagen.” The Kerry-Graham pairing is especially powerful when it comes to national security. Both senators served in the military and make a cogent argument that global warming can lead to global instability if it goes unchecked. Natural disasters caused by climate change, like droughts, hurricanes or floods, can weaken a state and intensify conflicts. Retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn explains for the Public News Service that the U.S. military is working towards adopting alternative fuels and overall energy conservation. The navy is exploring algae-based oils to fuel ships, and the Air Force looked into creating airplane fuel from coal but found it too costly. “The Department of Defense wants to save money and protect the country from the possible security threats ensuing from its dependence on imported oil, and one possible solution is domestic, renewable energy.” Graham also creates a platform for other Republicans and Democrats to get on board. Aaron Weiner reports in The Washington Independent that the Kerry-Graham op-ed has already started to influence other conservatives. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) issued a press release on Wednesday stating that the Kerry-Graham partnership “Marks a turning point in the climate debate.” Graham and Murkowski represent two of the reddest states in the country, and while they have not officially committed to supporting climate change legislation, Weiner argues that it moves them into a more “likely territory.” Meanwhile, Robert Reich argues in Salon that it would be better to go to Copenhagen empty handed than to go with a weak and ineffective law. The Kerry-Boxer bill has stronger emission caps than the Waxman-Markey bill, but is still far short of what is scientifically necessary to avert catastrophic climate change. Reich blames the "big old polluters"—coal, shale, oil, large manufacturers and utility companies—for Congress’s lack of action. He also notes that climate change legislation needs public support, but right now the public is focused on health care. “So here's my suggestion. The White House should tell Congress it's raising the bar on climate change but is simultaneously putting the current legislation on hold—until it can focus the public's attention on it. That is, until after a worthy piece of healthcare legislation is on the President's desk,” Reich writes. Moreover, political progress on climate change has been generally slow and ineffective. UN Climate negotiations in Bangkok were unproductive and a discouraging sign that we may not be able to accomplish very much in Copenhagen. Yet, Bill McKibben remains hopeful that a strong activist movement will help us realize real change, as he writes for Mother Jones: “In short: the scientific method has successfully identified the biggest problem the world has ever faced. It’s worked great. The political method has not worked so well. In fact it’s lurching toward something between abject and embarrassing failure. And yet the game isn’t quite over yet, because one team has barely begun to take the field. And that’s the team you’re on – the, uh, people.” McKibben will not allow politicians to fully determine the future of our planet, and looks forward to the International Day of Climate Action on October 24. Communities from around the world are organizing thousands of events in hopes of making a difference. Each event will highlight the number 350, or the maximum amount of carbon that is safe to have in the atmosphere, according to scientists. They hope to coax leaders to pay attention to the issue of climate change and work towards a real solution at Copenhagen. Finally, the world’s bloggers came together on Wednesday to write about climate change for Blog Action Day. According to Monika Bauerlein of Mother Jones, bloggers included British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who stressed that he wants to leave a safe and secure world for his children. What can one blog do to change the world? As the largest social change event on the web, Blog Action Day attracted over 10,036 blogs in 151 countries, and reached over 13 million readers. It's too soon to say what will happen in Copenhagen, but reform is looking much more feasible. The climate change debate has changed considerably in the past few weeks. Benen notes that "it seemed extremely unlikely that, less than two weeks after Kerry and Boxer presented their bill, Kerry and Lindsey Graham would have a joint op-ed in the New York Times on energy policy reform. Three weeks ago, the odds of the Senate passing an energy bill were "next to nothing." As of 11 days ago, the odds were "better, but still a long shot." This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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