Obama and the Warming Political Climate

It has been a cold winter, literally and figuratively. Prospects for a climate bill seemed to be dropping with the temperature, if you put stock in the conventional wisdom and believe the wishes of entrenched dirty energy companies.

But the climate has actually been warming up, because diverse political support for serious bi-partisan climate and energy legislation has been growing and growing stronger.

Obviously, the President’s emphasis on comprehensive climate and energy legislation is a key indicator. Some, like the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce, have clearly been hoping that Obama would cave to their 19th century energy vision by leaving ‘climate’ out of his State of the Union speech.

But President Obama re-affirmed his commitment to look forward to a more prosperous and secure energy future tonight. He touched on the climate and energy theme three times and told Congress that creating more jobs

“means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America… I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year.  This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate…because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.  And America must be that nation. ”

Now, I can already hear the nattering nabobs of negativism remind me that the President doesn’t pass laws, he just signs them.

True enough. Determined, committed leaders in Congress get laws passed, through force of argument, the power of persuasion and navigation of difficult political waters. So Senators Kerry and Graham are already demonstrating their tag-team skills as they seek to knit together a coalition of Democratic and Republican votes to pass a bill through the Senate.

Their efforts prompted E&E News (subscription required) to report today that

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman may have reason to be optimistic after a pair of moderate Democrats indicated they are not entirely closed off from negotiations.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said yesterday that she is open to a broad climate and energy bill as an alternative to the U.S. EPA climate regulations expected in the coming months…

Also opening the door again was Sen. Ben Nelson…Nelson said he has not had detailed conversations yet with Kerry, Graham and Lieberman. But he said he is open to negotiations on setting a limit on greenhouse gas emissions.

Not that there’s an easy path ahead. They have to find a way to make a bill work without blowing the point of doing a bill. But as the Energy Guardian (subscription required) reported, Senator Graham made clear that while he and Kerry want to be flexible and open-minded, the effort is still about climate:

"I'm not going to ask the environmental community to accept a compromise that doesn't, in a serious way, deal with our carbon pollution problem," Graham told reporters.

But there are more Senators who are itching to get moving. Yesterday, 17 Senators sent President Obama a letter, saying

We urge you to place clean energy and climate legislation capable of creating new economic opportunities at the top of your list. 

And earlier this week, 1,200 State Legislators from all over the US sent a letter to members of the United States Senate calling for urgent action on pending clean energy jobs and climate change legislation.

These clear signals come on top of last week's calls from business leaders, when more than 80 companies and business leaders joined together on a letter organized by We Can Lead and 65 joined in print ads to call for bi-partisan, national energy and climate legislation.

But its not just the big companies that support this agenda. The rapidly growing American Businesses for Clean Energy now boasts 2,000 businesses - mostly small - from all over the US, calling for “clean energy and climate legislation that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”  

One reason that thousands of companies want Congress to pass legislation is that they view it as the key to renewing America’s prosperity. As Peter Molinaro of the Dow Chemical Company explains in this interview, businesses need the clear signal of a carbon cap in order to be able to unleash the full power of investment and innovation to reenergize our economy:

Incidentally, Molinaro made these comments during a clean energy forum the New York Times described as "hosted by labor, farming, military veteran and environmental groups," an event that emphasizes the ever-widening support for climate legislation.

There is another reason that more and more businesses support legislation. Bloomberg News reported today that the Securities and Exchange Commission approved rules stating that “Companies must consider the effects of global warming and efforts to curb climate change when disclosing business risks to investors.” As the Washington Post explained, "A number of large institutional investors had been urging the SEC to put more pressure on companies to disclose more details about the effects of climate change on their businesses."

Another positive development is that developing countries, including China and India, which have long been used as excuses for inaction by climate policy opponents, have committed to reduce their pollution

Now, I’ll readily admit that this is not an easy issue, and it isn’t easy for members of Congress to go against the powerful special interests like API and the US Chamber.

But increasingly, members of Congress recognize that we can’t stick with a 19th century energy platform, and that clean energy and climate legislation will make America stronger in the 21st century by strengthening our national security by cutting dependence on foreign oil, growing jobs and economic opportunity in every state in the nation and protecting the health of our children and future generations by reducing pollution.