Cautiously Optimistic that the Climate Bill Is Gaining Ground

The game changed on Sunday. The New York Times op-ed written by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator John Kerry calling for clean energy and climate legislation transformed the debate from "maybe some time in the next year or two," to "likely this fall."

What makes the op-ed so significant?

On a symbolic level, it reminds us that the health of the world's atmosphere transcends party politics. Melting Arctic ice sheets, searing droughts, and devastating floods do not recognize partisan divides.

On a pragmatic level, the op-ed provides some useful clues about the prospects of clean energy and climate legislation in the Senate.

First, it reveals that the bill can garner Republican votes--and not just moderate ones either. As blogger Joe Romm points out, Lindsey Graham has an American Conservative Union rating of 89.79, placing him among the 20 most conservative senators of 2008. His leadership on the issue will reassure not only some members of his own party, but conservative Democrats as well.

Second, the op-ed indicates that with this added support, the bill will likely pass the 60 vote mark, making it filibuster-proof. Third, it shows that clean energy and climate legislation will likely be the Senate's next major priority after health care.

Reading the op-ed on Sunday left me feeling cautiously optimistic. I even agreed with the seven hopeful signs for climate action listed in a recent Grist post.

But I remain wary. We still have a lot of work to do in order to go from an op-ed in the Times to a bill on President Obama's desk.

Kerry and Graham's op-ed sketched out some shared policy goals, but many details still have to be worked out and some of them will be contentious.

As our senators go through the horse trading process, they need to know that the Americans want real, comprehensive climate action. They need to hear it loud and clear and from people of all walks of life.

In the last two weeks, they heard powerful messages from the business community. Not only did more than 200 executives descend on Capitol Hill to say that clean energy legislation would promote America's economic leadership, but several other key businesses defected from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because they didn't like the chamber's persistent opposition to climate solutions.

This week, lawmakers will be hearing from another sector of society: the youth movement.  An organization called Power Shift 09 is hosting youth summits across the nation calling on the Senate to pass a climate bill before the international negotiations begin in Copenhagen in December. 

In the coming weeks, we will also hear more from veterans, religious leaders, and environmental groups who support climate action now.

We need all their voices -- and yours -- to add to the debate, because as encouraging as Senator Graham's signature on that op-ed was, it is not enough to finish the job.

Click here to tell your senators that you expect them to join with Senator Graham and Senator Kerry in supporting clean energy and climate legislation.