Future Hope column, June 27, 2009
By Ted Glick
Yesterday morning, on the day that the House of Representatives very narrowly passed a very problematic—a bad—climate bill, I finally became clear in my mind what I was hoping for.
My first choice was that the House leadership cancel the planned floor vote because they would decide that they didn’t have enough votes to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. If this happened, I reasoned, it could lead to a serious reconsideration of the coal-industry-and-Wall-Street-friendly, cap-and-trade framework of this particular piece of climate legislation. It could mean a much closer look by Congresspeople and civil society organizations at the better frameworks of cap-and-dividend, carbon tax and rebates, or some hybrid of those two.
This, of course, didn’t happen. The House leadership rolled the dice and just barely prevailed, 219-212. Four changed votes would have meant defeat for ACES.
This was my second choice, the passage of ACES by a narrow margin. My reasoning was that this would keep open the possibility of coming up with a stronger bill as it moved from the House to the Senate but without “big mo,” lots of momentum behind this particular way of addressing the climate crisis.
But climate and environmental activists who know the Capitol Hill scene are very aware that the odds of our getting anything better than ACES out of the Senate are very long. Indeed, the more likely result of Senate consideration is that ACES will get even weaker UNLESS this near-defeat in the House leads to an urgent reconsideration of the approach and the tactics used over the next 3-4-5 months.
Having been in the midst of the campaign to get a good bill out of the House for the last seven or so months—a campaign that failed, we have to honestly acknowledge—these are the four things I would see as essential to the possibility of getting something out of the Senate that comes much closer to what the climate science says is needed:
First, we have to call upon Barack Obama to “lead from the front, not the rear,” as Mike Tidwell has put it. During his 2008 Presidential campaign and up until four months ago, Obama was publicly strong in support of a 100% auction, with no giveaways, of permits for polluters to emit carbon. He supported the return of 80-85% of the hundreds of billions raised by this auction to American taxpayers and consumers to help us deal with the higher prices this would bring, with the remainder used for various clean energy/green jobs/international assistance programs.
Second, many more of our groups have to be less willing to align so closely with the desires of the Democratic Party leadership, more willing to say “no” when asked to support a really bad political compromise. Indeed, we need to be willing to do what a number of groups—to their credit—did before the House vote yesterday, come out saying publicly that we are against this way-too-weak, polluter-influenced piece of legislation.
Our power to force the political powers-that-be in Washington, D.C. to take our demands seriously is directly proportional to our willingness to refuse to go along with bad things.
Third, those scores of groups which have already come out publicly in support of either cap and dividend or carbon tax and rebates have to move immediately to find the ways to work together more collaboratively and more effectively as the struggle moves to the Senate. Groups which have been unwilling to break with the cap and trade orthodoxy need to take a much harder look at these clearly preferable policy alternatives.
The fact is that there is a lot of concern among U.S. Senators about cap and trade. At a Senate Finance Committee hearing in mid-May the major question asked in various ways by a number of Senators had to do with if a carbon tax is a better, simpler and more efficient way of putting a price on carbon. The four people who were testifying all agreed that yes, it was.
Finally, we need street heat!! We need people visibly demonstrating for science-based, strong legislation. We need sit-ins and marches. Actions on October 24th (http://www.350.org) all over the world need to be big and strong. We need to act as if the next six months, leading up to the big United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, is the most important half-year of our lives for those of us who get it on the urgency of the climate crisis.
We Need More. We need a strong, not just any, climate bill. We need to take what happened yesterday in the House and turn it into something that history will record as not so much the culmination of our many years of hard work but a breakthrough that opened the way for a flood of people power, a broad and deep clean energy revolution in the months and years ahead.
Ted Glick is the Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and is a co-founder of the Climate Crisis Coalition, but these views are solely his own. Past writings and other information can be found at http://www.tedglick.com.