Monday, December 1, 2008

Where are we?

In the outgoing congress, there were 45 reliable votes for serious climate change legislation in the Senate. The bad news is that despite the changed makeup of the Senate, the count is about the same – 6 votes short of a majority and 14-16 vote short of a veto proof majority (depending on how races in Minnesota and Georgia come out). That makes it all the more crucial to focus on the question of the White House. Not since the Johnson administration, has a president come in with the political capital to set an agenda and demand congressional assent. Climate change legislation may only occur to the extent that Obama is willing to spend that political capital to make it a priority. And we know such capital has a short shelf life. But the route to this legislation is unlikely to be direct. Before the economic crisis, one might have hoped for climate legislation to have been greased for passage with the promise of green job investments along with hand waving about energy independence. The collapse of oil prices removes the immediate political value of the second of these. But the economic crisis makes the green job investments central. So central, that we should no longer expect a climate bill with them a secondary but an employment bill with the climate provisions as secondary. That is not going to be easy to pull off. Climate provisions, like a 20% reduction by 2020 and 80% by 2050 are not in and of themselves politically attractive. So if they are add-ons to a (green) jobs bill there will be all sorts of incentives to lop them off. Still, it may be the only politically viable option at this point.

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