As one experienced senator recently told an NRDC trustee: “I have never seen an important piece of legislation get passed that wasn’t declared dead several times before.”
All the big bills flirt with death. Why? Because it is really, really hard to move legislation through Congress. I have seen the most straightforward bills–like the ones to name post offices–get slowed to a halt while hand wringing and horse trading goes on.
I have even seen the bills that uphold the status quo get bogged down. I worked on a bill to phase out the exportation of dangerous mercury. The federal government had already started phasing it out, private industry had done the same, and the House of Representatives passed the bill with ease. Yet still it sat on life support in the Senate for months. Everyone thought it was a goner–until it wasn’t. It passed in 2008.
Clean energy and climate legislation will be much more transformative than the mercury bill was, and as a result, its birthing process will be even more tortured. But I am not calling it stillborn, and here is why.
1. Senators Continue to Propose New Climate Bills
Whether you like these bills or hate them, Senators are continuing to look for a path forward. Senators Cantwell and Collins recently drafted a climate bill, and Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are about to release their version. Senators don’t write legislation about dead issues.
2. The Press Keeps Covering Climate
A mantra among elected officials used to be “There is No Such Thing As Bad Press.” In the modern day of the internet and ethics fiascos, we now know this saying is nothing if not exaggerated. However, every Washington insider knows that an issue is alive as long as it is talked about in the media. Climate bills are getting a lot of coverage, from editorial pages calling for action to major dailies reporting on the political maneuverings. Even the National Standard put Al Gore and climate action on its cover this week. It may not be all positive press but climate is big news.
3. Climate Action Has Bipartisan Traction
We all know Congress has sunk to historic levels of partisan paralysis. Senator Collins joined Senator Snowe in one climate proposal. It is especially significant that the most anticipated climate proposal is currently being written by Democratic Senator Kerry, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, and Independent Senator Lieberman.
4. President Obama Is Rolling Up His Sleeves
President Obama said in his State of the Union Address that he wants a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill on his desk this year. Since then, he has met with senators, business leaders, and environmental groups to push action along. The latest example was on Tuesday when he called a bipartisan group of swing senators to the White House.
5. There Is Strong Business Support for the Bill
Companies are still fleeing the Chamber of Commerce over its attempts to thwart clean energy and climate legislation. Meanwhile, the American Businesses for Clean Energy –a group of companies urging Congress to pass such legislation–has more than 2,500 members in 41 states after just four months in existence.
The bottom line is that all bills that offer any hope of meaningful change live on life support. The climate bill ain’t dead yet – not by a long shot.