When In A Hole, Stop Digging

As the urgency of global warming increases, old divides are breaking down and old adversaries are starting to cooperate.   

Fortune 100 companies have come together with leading environmental organizations in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which produced a Blueprint for Legislative Action and is urging the House Energy and Commerce Committee to adopt cap and trade legislation this week (here, p.26).  Yesterday, supporters of the Waxman-Markey bill soundly defeated a series of amendments that die-hard opponents of action on climate change hoped in vain would split the progressives and moderates and derail the bill.  

Also yesterday, auto makers, states, environmentalists, and the federal government buried the hatchet in the White House Rose Garden and agreed on new global warming and mileage standards for cars and trucks.  A conservative Detroit talk radio host was impressed - he told me, "normally you're the enemy, but not today."  

With peace, or at least détente, breaking out between business and environmental interests, and with Chairman Waxman so far winning the votes in committee, what is the bill opponents' strategy? 

So far, it's all negative.  Rhetoric about economic Armageddon, poison pill amendments, and delay.  

The committee's ranking Republican, Joe Barton of Texas, reportedly had to be talked out of a strategy of obstruction and delay.  He wanted to force the committee clerks to read the entire 900+ page bill out loud.  When Senate Republicans tried that in last summer's debate over climate legislation, a violent thunderstorm swept through Washington, with lightning, rain, wind, and tornado warnings.  

On the third day of the mark-up, bill opponents are still threatening to force votes on hundreds of time-wasting amendments. 

After years of being America's biggest businesses' best friends, some members of the GOP are experimenting with another strategy:  let's attack the USCAP companies that have stood up for climate action.   

Do they have anything positive to offer?  The so-called Republican "alternative," proposed by Rep. Barton last week, stitches together a bunch of tired old ideas that would just dig us in deeper on fossil fuel dependence and global warming.  In the simplest terms, Barton's amendment would increase our carbon pollution, deepen dependence on coal and oil, and reduce our energy security.  

As more and more businesses join President Obama and Congressional leaders to make real progress on energy and climate, the hold-outs find themselves increasingly isolated in overheated rhetoric that appeals to a narrower and narrower base.  Some of them know that's just painting themselves into a corner.  

There's a better way.  That's why Governor Schwarzenegger was at the White House yesterday, with the auto executives and the president.  Let's hope more of them figure this out.