Energy Bill, R.I.P.
Passing some sort of comprehensive climate-and-energy legislation has been on the White House's list of things to do for a while. The effort got off to an auspicious start when the House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey bill, officially titled the American Clean Energy and Security Act. That bill mandates a cap-and-trade system (check this refresher if you're unfamiliar with the term), emissions reduction targets, and subsidies for clean energy development. It's a good bill.
But then the ball was in the Senate's dysfunctional court. There have been various versions of a Senate climate bill, but the legislation has been chipped away at. Today, we got a look at the anemic result.
I'm not even sure you can call it an energy package at this point.
Here's what we know is going to be in the package:
1. Oil spill response measures, including elimination of the liability cap for damages and granting the power of subpoena to the presidential oil spill commission.
2. Reforms to the Department of Interior division charged with overseeing oil and gas development, likely similar to the package Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has proposed.
3. $5 billion to spur the development of a natural gas truck fleet.
4. $5 billion to fund the HomeStar program, which will encourage construction of energy-efficient homes.
5. $5 billion for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
It doesn't include a carbon cap, or energy efficiency standards, or clean electricity standards. It's good that the bill eliminates the liability cap for oil spills and funds HomeStart, but a climate bill it is not.
If you wanted to design a threat that our political system couldn't address, here's what you'd do: You'd make the pain of doing nothing come much later, but the pain of doing something begin right now. You'd concentrate the costs of failure in poor countries, while the costs of a policy solution would be concentrated in certain regions of America. You'd make it hard to solve without the imposition of a new tax. You'd make sure that some of the largest and richest industries in the world had an enormous amount to fear from that tax.
Our government just isn't very good at making decisions that require short-term, unevenly distributed sacrifice to solve faceless long-term problems. This isn't a problem with a particular elected official, industry, or interest group. It's a problem with the very mechanics of decision making in our political system.
If you want to help solve the near-term problem of getting climate legislation passed, you can contact your representatives and tell them you want it. But how do we address the systemic problems? One thing we can do is advocate for a change in filibuster rules so we don't need a supermajority to get anything done in the Senate. If you want to address even deeper issues, advocate for better public education. A wiser and better informed electorate would be better equipped to see through misinformation from the media and opportunistic politicians, and more likely to elect people into office who could pass legislation that improves the way government functions.
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