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Did a climate bill just get less likely?


One of the big questions about the Deepwater oil spill is whether it makes a climate bill more or less likely. In the days after the accident, I sounded out Senate staff on this and they were exactly as uncertain as I was.

But today, Brad Plumer offers a pretty good argument that the spill will hurt chances for a bill: Offshore oil drilling was supposed to be one of the major carrots for the GOP. But now many Democrats are implacably opposed to further drilling. As Kate Sheppard reports, some have sworn to filibuster anything that opens up further opportunities for offshore drilling. So that deal just got harder, and the list of excuses lawmakers could make to sink the bill got longer.

And this comes on the heels of last week's spat between Lindsey Graham and Harry Reid over whether the Senate could do both immigration and climate change. So I'd say chances for an energy bill are looking pretty grim, unless the president decides to incorporate the spill into a broader campaign to reduce our fossil fuel dependence.

Photo credit: By Alex Wong/Getty Images

By Ezra Klein  |  May 4, 2010; 3:25 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Next: In defense of a moratorium on offshore oil drilling


"So I'd say chances for an energy bill are looking pretty grim, unless the president decides to incorporate the spill into a broader campaign to reduce our fossil fuel dependence."

The second part of that sentence ("unless") is the key.

It is being argued that the Obama administration has not seized the Deepwater disaster as an opportunity to advance energy and climate legislation, and that fact indicates that they are not interested in pushing climate legislation this year. I hope that is not true. I think that they may be waiting a bit for several reasons.

One is that there are so many issues in the news right now. Just a week ago the big story was Goldman Sachs, and since then we have had the Greece-Euro problem, the oil slick, and the incompetent terrorist all competing for media attention. Experience teaches us that the terrorist story will probably fixate cable news for the next week or two.

Also, it may be a little bit longer before the real magnitude of the environmental disaster is fully understood, but even in the best case scenario, this story will be big for a long time to come, so the administration has some time to work with.

It seems hard to believe that an offshore drilling disaster could actually hurt a bill that is designed to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. If Obama allows that to happen, it will become a very troubling element in the legacy of his Presidency.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 4, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Has a climate bill ever been likely?

I was just listening to some Republicans desperately and incoherently attacking FinReg--it's an attack on the middle class and small business! When they are so dramatically opposed to something on purely partisan grounds, you really think any carrot was going to move them on climate legislation? Add that to Democrats from coal, oil, and natural gas heavy states, and it's a very tough sell. You'd think FinReg would, by comparison, be smooth sailing.

And if the Republicans are going to oppose the Democrats largely conservative immigration reform . . . there is nothing that was going to get any of them to sign on to a climate bill.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | May 4, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I suspect that the fact that the climate bill splits Dems while the immigration bill splits the GOP makes it more likely that the immigration bill would get priority heading into the midterms.

Posted by: cjo30080 | May 4, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm in the "who cares?" camp. The cap and trade bill had become so bogged down with special interest promises, breaks for energy companies, and taking the power away from the EPA to go after these guys when they break the law. Besides, it is a hugely unpopular, though necessary, bill which the Republicans will beat Dems over the head with in 2010 and 2012. Why bother with a fight if an agency is going to do it better than the Congress? I'm almost glad the bill is going to die.

I say, let the EPA regulate the carbon (like they said they would), and then go back and try to hammer out a deal with the GOP. I guarantee you'll get more concessions from them after EPA actually does something than before.

Posted by: MadIrishFrog | May 4, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse


Right now the administration is in a bad place. They just opened up vast areas of pristine coastline for new drilling, the spill happened on their watch, and nobody realized at first how bad the leak was.

If Obama pivots and goes back to a policy of no new drilling, coupled with using the "optics" of the disaster as an argument for reducing the use of oil, he may not succeed, but at least he will force the Republicans to "own" the spill, which will be good politics during the midterms.

You can't win if you don't play, and sooner or later Obama needs to get into the game. But maybe not this week, while the McCains of this world are still busy showing up on cable news and yammering on about how the incompetent terrorist needs to be executed and not mirandized.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 4, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Dems fail from time to time, and make mistakes, but they show signs from time to time of adjusting to those failures and mistakes, and then they set course corrections.

Not the GOP. They adhere to their ideology come hell or high water.

Obama can say anything he wants, with or without skill, with or without passion, and the GOP will never see the wisdom in a climate bill or in regulating the safety practices of oil and coal companies.

Until American voters start truly punishing the GOP in elections, the GOP will continue its nihilistic ways and will continue to be corporate shills of the first order. Until then Americans will get what they deserve: a continued slide to economic whoredom and a steady disappearance of the middle class.

Posted by: Lomillialor | May 4, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

The energy bill should not include new offshore drilling, but not necessarily why one might think. Drilling is relatively spill free when you consider the amount of drilling that is taking place worldwide. Similarly flying is safe, despite the occasional crash.

Drilling for the US bears little fruit. The future of energy is high tech and thorium nuclear , not coal and oil. If you weigh the amount of oil we consume versus the amount of projected oil in the outer shelf , it quickly becomes obvious it is fools errand. Plus it will take at least 20 years to bring that oil to market.

Posted by: FreedomFries | May 4, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: scarlota | May 4, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

What we need at this moment is an energy bill. Let the EPA regulate carbon emissions, vehicle mileage etc. Sooner or later industries will want to go back to a negotiated bill in Congress on carbon emissions. What we need now is a combination jobs and investment in clean energy bill coupled with some sop to nuclear to get it moving. We need to stimulate new technology and efficiency and wean ourselves off oil because we simply can't afford the cost in environmental damage and war, nor can we afford to fall behind other countries in clean energy technology.

Events are unfortunately going to supply more pressure, perhaps a very hot summer, more flooding and fires etc, because those are the effects of climate change. But he should try to sell the national security aspect of it, with the Pentagon as a helper. We can't afford any more wars, curtailing oil imports hurts Iran, and conservation and efficiency have no environmental cost and much benefit. But the Pres needs to manifest a sense of urgency on climate.

Posted by: Mimikatz | May 4, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone read the glowing report made by an Obama Administration official shortly before the oil rig catastrophe?

Remember, there are Obama Administration officials spending full days (at least the portion thereof not spent viewing "movies") inspecting and evaluating oil rigs; however, I doubt you'll hear the President highlighting the failure of its own cadre of officials and regulators. The usual course is to blame someone else.

Perhaps what's needed are plain-language regulations coupled with straightforward enforcement: make a list of things that will make a process as safe as possible and, when deviations from the list are detected, require remediation before activity can resume. At present, there are rather lofty-sounding regulations understood by neither those who must implement them nor those employed to enforce them.

Simply giving up fossil fuels is obviously (well, obvious to all but the extremist left) not an alternative, so the solution will necessarily involve nuclear materials, fossil fuels (including coal, oil, natural gas), and perhaps even loud bird-killing windmills, ugly fish-killing dams in rivers, and shiny sand-mite-disturbing photovoltaic panels. Sensible, practical regulation can help minimize the risk from each source.

Posted by: rmgregory | May 4, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

"Offshore oil drilling was supposed to be one of the major carrots for the GOP."

Heh. One of the major carrots for them to do what, exactly?

We currently have a serious and possibly catastrophic oil leak in our coastal waters and you're thinking that the reason Republicans won't be helping to prevent catastrophic climate change is that now they might not get the opportunity to create more serious and possibly catastrophic oil leaks in our coastal waters?

How is it even possible that our government has reached this level of absurdity? Or even more disturbing, how is it possible that our government has reached this level of absurdity and we haven't yet annihilated ourselves? I mean, we do still have the atom bomb right?

Posted by: slag | May 4, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse


In the event that you ever run for President, you will have my vote. Sincerely.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 4, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Wind energy is completely ineffective. The only thing that props this industry up is government subsidies and the taxes that fund those, and the charlatans selling this wind energy snake oil who get rich on those subsidies.

A basic problem is this. Example- I listen to a friend's wife (they are Democrats, if it matters) worrying about her "carbon footprint;" all the while she does 6 loads of mostly unnecessary laundry a week for two people, hot water wash and then dryer, use a towel once then wash it. They have multiple unnecessary huge appliances, turn the heat up high, then leave every light on. They also stuff enormous amounts of meat and animal products down their throats every day, supporting an industry that leaves the largest "carbon footprint" possible on this society.

However, she and her rather foolish husband then start the litany on "wind energy" as though it's some kind of saviour or panacea. I feel like I'm in church!

There is no solution to this energy problem as long as Americans live like this.

And we need to address issues like overpopulation. As long as the birth rate is not controlled, and unlimited numbers of people flood into this country, usage skyrockets, no matter what alternatives we support.

We don't live in the 1880s anymore. We need to control our birth rate.

The only possible easing of this that I can see is expansion of nuclear energy.
But even that is not the answer if the population continues to grow unchecked, and Americans consume so vastly.

Posted by: drWalter | May 5, 2010 2:53 AM | Report abuse


Does your "friend" know that you call him "foolish" on the Internet and that you describe the household laundry habits of the gentleman and his wife in extreme detail, right down to temperature settings?


I think that there is broad agreement that a part of the solution will need to come through better conservation habits and improved energy efficiency. Perhaps if your "friends" were billed at a substantially higher rate for energy usage above a certain common sense baseline for the size of their household, their habits might change more quickly.

Generation of power via wind is not a single magic solution, but neither is it snake oil.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 5, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

What's with the photograph at the beginning of this post? The speaker at the mikes in the center looks like his face is pasted in. Lighting looks wrong--notice shadow on faces of all the people surrounding him.

Posted by: jshafham | May 6, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

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