On Climate & Energy Policy, Dems Dance Alone

My issues with Joe Romm aside, he has written a post today that is spot-on. (My rule is to play the argument, not the man.) Riffing off this superb Ezra Klein piece, Romm writes:

In the climate bill debate of the past two years, Obama and the Democrats embraced Republican ideas in an effort to minimize or avoid the partisanship inherent in other approaches that had been explicitly rejected by Republicans, including a tax and a massive ramp up in clean energy funding, as I’ve argued.

But Klein makes an effective case that it simply didn’t matter how reasonable or centrist or business-friendly a strategy environmentalists and progressive politicians pursued (or might have pursued).  The Republicans simply were committed to stopping Obama from appearing bipartisan.

This should be obvious to anyone who has paid attention to American politics the past two years. And on that note,  it’s reasonable to ask if the partisan roadblocks to the climate debate can be hurdled by simply charting a new path, as Jonathan Foley advised in his Q & A with me yesterday. For example, after reading that interview at Climate Central, Jonathan Gilligan emailed me this LA Times column by Jonah Goldberg, who writes that, “without global warming,” President Obama’s energy policy (which emphasizes national security) is “outright bonkers.” (Goldberg, it can be assumed, is channeling the sentiments of his fellow conservatives.)

Not a lot of room for common ground there. So while I’m all for a more constructive climate and energy debate, it does take two to dance.

34 Responses to “On Climate & Energy Policy, Dems Dance Alone”

  1. harrywr2 says:

    <i>Not a lot of room for common ground there. So while I’m all for a more constructive climate and energy debate, it does take two to dance</i>
    There isn’t going to be much action on energy policy for at least another couple of years. Everyone can whine and cry but IMHO their is insufficient information available at the moment to make good long term decisions.
    The energy acts of 2005 and 2007 tossed a lot of balls in the air, not all of them have landed yet and the unknowns haven’t all shaken out.
    No one can say with any certainty how much a nuclear power plant will cost, how much natural gas will cost in 2015, whether or not the batteries in various electric vehicles will live up to life cycle expectations, whether or not an expected breakthrough in hydrogen fuel cells will occur, how serious the grid integration problems of windmills will be, how big the impact on global food supply biofuels will pose , how much Carbon Capture and Storage will cost etc etc etc.
    IMHO, for the time being an ‘all of the above’ approach is the only approach possible. In time the unknowns will be known and some of the ‘next big things’ will fizzle and others will achieve large scale rollout.

  2. Paul Kelly says:

    It is facilely comforting for the left to blame the failure of cap/trade on Obama’s mythical bipartisanship. How about looking at the legislation itself. Waxman/Markey was a partisan, lobbyist driven mess – not surprising when two of the most anti market congressman are charged with coming up with a “market solution”. Obama’s flip flop on 100% auction added to the debacle.
    In the Senate, Waxman/Markey was a non starter and cap/trade died at the committee level. Democrats, who had sixty seats at the time, could have easily picked up support from Collins, Snowe, Gramm or other moderate Republican with true bipartisanship. The President, as is his wont, chose to lead from behind.

  3. Jon P says:

    In the entrenched partisan politics of Congress the Dems made this happen (as have Republicans in the past). The Dems completely shut-out the Republicans from the Health-Care legislation. This was the time Obama made statements about “we won”, “get to the back of the bus” etc.

    But of course now the Republicans should just forget all that and “compromise” with the Dems on the Dems terms.

    There were some that were going to do just that (Dems + Ind = 59 votes in Senate at the time) But oh let’s not forget in the spring of 2010 at the height of energy bill negotiations Harry Reid and the Dems decided to insert and rush Immigration Legislation ahead of the energy bill that at the time Kerry and Lieberman were going to announce in just a few days. That lost Graham for support, because of more games by the Dems.

    In the end that legislation would have been one of the largest tax increases in history and would have hit some states harder than others. So I am happy it died.

  4. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    A number of people—Break Through Institute, Hartwell group, RPJ’s Climate Fix, and most recently Foley—have argued that reframing the policy issue from a narrow one of climate change to a broader one of energy would create a big tent in which people who might disagree about climate change, energy security, etc. could find common ground (what Cass Sunstein calls an “incompletely theorized agreement“) and agree on specific actions even if each one had a different reason for supporting that action (I might favor increasing CAFE standards to reduce GHG emissions and someone else might favor increasing them to reduce our dependence on imported oil).
    This is also at the root of a long line of Tom Friedman thought about an integrated green jobs/national security/climate security policy.
    But as Jonah Goldberg emphatically argues, “if you wanted to create non-exportable jobs, wean America off foreign oil or pursue energy independence from the Middle East, absent any concerns about climate change or releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, you would unleash America’s massive energy reserves in coal, gas and oil.”
    The Friedman/Pielke/Hartwell/BTI/Foley idea assumes that the most attractive energy will ultimately be green, but this is not obvious, and the vigor with which the Republicans in this Congress are looking to cut off funding for clean energy research, for clean energy subsidies, and for efficiency standards suggests that there’s little to no room for constructive negotiation and compromise. Keith nails it: it does take two.

  5. Paul in Sweden says:

    Klein & Romm look past the fact that the very policies that they tout as bipartisan are the very policies that enraged America leading to the formation of the bipartisan Tea Party and the subsequent power shift in the house in 2010.
    Tax and Trade was not a platform to be caught standing upon during the elections of 2010 for either Democrats or Republicans – Americans by-and-large did not and do not want it.
    Obamacare was rammed through the Democrat controlled House and Senate and even then just made it. Now we sit back and watch all the Obamacare exemptions pile up from Obama’s strongest supporters in States, Municipalities and corporations.
    No, we are not seeing a stop a policy just because it is an Obama policy. We are seeing the result of an election that was fostered by bipartisan legislation & policies rejected by America and offered by the former congress that partially transitioned in 2010 and will continue to do so in 2012.

  6. Jeff Norris says:

    Both Pauls and Jon are correct that it was the attitude of “We Won” that encouraged and even created resistance.  In April of 2009 progressive leaders tried to push legislation that would allow future cap n trade legislation to get by with a simple majority vote in the Senate.  26 dems and 41 republicans said no.   This was at a time when close to 60% of Americans supported the idea of a Cap n Trade plan even it if raised taxes.   In June Waxman Markey was passed just 24 hours after a 300 page amendment was tacked on to the already 1000 page bill. 
    By October that support has fallen to 50% and 55% of the public said they have heard nothing about Cap N Trade.  The big issue at the time were ramming through Health Care.  I agree it takes two to tango but telling your potential partner to “Get up n dance bitch” makes it difficult for them to accept your offer.

  7. Marlowe Johnson says:

    For the life of me I can’t understand how the Republicans are able to get away with opposing clean energy research and efficiency standards. C&T and carbon taxes I can understand (big government), but R&D?
    One can only hope that as gas prices rise and the backlash to ‘drill baby drill’ (i.e. Deepwater Horizon) sets in that this sort of incoherent position will become less tenable…OTOH this is U.S. politics wer’re talking about so I’m not holding my breath 🙂

  8. Roddy Campbell says:

    I don’t know who Goldberg is, and therefore who his fellow conservatives are, so I read his article at face value.  Where do his ‘outright bonkers’ arguments fall down, in general?  He says, if you take CO2 arguments out, US energy policy is crazy.  He questions the economic costs of high speed trains, of ‘green’ jobs, or the European experience in wind and solar (awful, take it from me, read the recent John Muir report on Scottish wind) – all of which seem legitimate arguments/questions to me.  His statement that the answer to energy security is domestic fossil reserves rather than wind also seems straightforwardly true.

  9. Sashka says:


    IMO, the bipartisan solution would be the tax-dividend scheme supported by Hansen of all people. I wonder what stopped Obama from putting it on the table. Republicans?

    Meanwhile EPA stopped Shell from drilling in Alaska waters because … “Shell had not taken into consideration emissions from an ice-breaking vessel when calculating overall greenhouse gas emissions from the project”


    What sort of tango is expected in response from the pro-business party?

  10. Paul Kelly says:

    Don’t confuse “common goal” with decoupling or combining reasons, or re-framing. It is not a way to finesse the public or the politicians. It is not about what reason is better. It is about assuming a plethora of reasons, all valid.
    If I ask everybody reading this if getting off of fossil fuel is a good idea, most everyone will say yes. Even though there’s wide and narrow disagreement on everything else especially reasons, most agree with that. That agreement is is where all the discussion should be.

  11. NewYorkJ says:

    Cap and trade is supported by a good majority of the American people, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into 60% support needed in the U.S. Senate.  There were and are enough Senators controlled by fossil fuel interests to block what was the first legislation of its kind passed in the House in 2009.  All eyes will be on California, which is moving forward with cap and trade with even stronger public support.  CA is the largest state economy, making up 13% of the entire U.S. economy, and rules there tend to have large impacts elsewhere.

    Anything-Obama-supports-we-oppose partisanship is certainly the Republican approach to politics, and one that is effective and will continue to be as long as voters reward them for it.  It’s making things a little difficult for Romney these days as he struggles to explain why he supported healthcare legislation broadly similar to the 2010 U.S. legislation based by a Democratic Congress.  Simply claiming “ours was bi-partisan” worked for Scott Brown but is going to be difficult to hold up among a brutal Repubilcan primary season, where party leaders and media have incessantly beat the anti-healthcare message into the minds of party loyalists.  Similarly, we’ve seen a barrage of attacks against climate science and whatever-legislation-Democrats-support-on-GHG-reductions.  While there isn’t a strong indication that public opinion has shifted significantly as a result, there is an indication that like healthcare, the Republican base has gotten much more zealous on the issue, willing to lynch party leaders who support cap and trade or even (gasp) say they support science.  The existence of a sizable minority of partisan fanatics is certainly a problem, as few Republicans stand a chance at winning nomination unless they pledge loyalty to the beliefs of the partisan base, which makes one wonder if this partisan roadblock can be hurdled at all.  Maybe it starts with getting to the heart of what causes such blind party loyalty and failure for many to look at issues objectively.

    Goldberg’s opinion piece…

    After all, if you wanted to create non-exportable jobs, wean America off foreign oil or pursue energy independence from the Middle East, absent any concerns about climate change or releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, you would unleash America’s massive energy reserves in coal, gas and oil.

    Does Goldberg seriously believe CO2 is the only environmental problem with burning fossil fuels?  That seems bonkers.

    Goldberg then goes on to push the usual talking points, claiming skepticism is on the rise because Americans rate the economy higher on the list of priorities than global warming, a nonsequitur exposed to death here.  Then the Spanish green job loss myth is pushed.

  12. Ed Forbes says:

    “.. it’s reasonable to ask if the partisan roadblocks to the climate debate can be hurdled by simply charting a new path..”

    G*d I hope not !

    I changed from being a life long Dem to Repb over this issue and will continue to vote against tbe Dems until they come to their senses.

    Not to happy with many of the Repb’s policies, but these days I vote for the “lesser of two weevils” 🙂

  13. Marlowe Johnson says:

    what I object to is the idea you seem to be advancing that climate advocates aren’t already doing this (i.e. talking up co-benefits, multiple drivers, etc.).  Do you have any evidence? taking up Jonathan’s last point, how do you bring the Republicans on side when they’re opposing ALL proposals relating to energy and environment.  what do you suggest?

  14. Paul in Sweden says:

    “If I ask everybody reading this if getting off of fossil fuel is a good idea, most everyone will say yes.”

    …and many of those individuals may also recognize that fossil fuel & nuclear are the only means to provide power on demand throughout all regions of the world. They also may realize that all current renewable energy solutions proposed & employed neither have the potential to meet current demand for energy(much less allow for growth)nor do they do anything to reduce CO2 emissions.

    Research and planning is needed, not doing anything at any cost just for the sake of doing something.

  15. Paul Kelly says:

    I’m advocating something beyond what you’re objecting to. I’m recommending climate advocates abandon the  failed information deficit/political model and work within an energy transformation focused /social interaction model. Some, of course are already doing this. Many embrace at least some part of the common goal idea. More need to seek solutions that are not government dependent.

  16. Marlowe Johnson says:

    @Paul Kelly,
    can you elaborate on what a energy transformation/social interaction model is?
    Wrt to volunteerism vs. government sponsored solutions, I’ll admit it sounds nice, particularly given the prospects of federal climate/energy policy at the moment.  However, I don’t for a second believe that such a shift in emphasis comes anywhere close to solving the problem at hand.  OTOH I’m open to any evidence that you might have that suggests otherwise.

  17. Paul Kelly says:

    Non government dependent action includes a great deal more than volunteerism. The 10:10 group were on the right track before their PR fail. Activists should concentrate on actual efficiency and technology deployment.
    Politically oriented volunteerism could be better directed. Wouldn’t more mitigation have come if all those attending Power Shift in Washington D.C. spent their time and money on a specific deployment project rather than on transportation, lodging and meals?
    Energy transformation is already under way.

  18. thingsbreak says:

    Keith, this was one of the huge issues many of us raised against your uncritical cheerleading for the breakthrough boys/”low hanging fruit”/Hartwell/etc. It’s great that you’re recognizing this now, but why did it take months for you to get here?

  19. NewYorkJ says:

    Excellent piece by David Roberts (#19)

  20. Heraclitus says:

    Paul, have you got any concrete evidence that the 10:10 group made a “PR fail”? Is there less awareness of their campaign or less support for it? Some corporate sponsors pulled out, but is this significant?

    10:10 is important, but it is not sufficient. Its approach can only be one strand of the solution. Activists should not concentrate on only one thing. Top down and bottom up.

    I also recommend David Roberts’ outstanding piece linked to in #19.

  21. Keith Kloor says:

    David Roberts is a brainy guy and a terrific writer. But most of that piece was about douchcanoes and one of his favorite tropes–the liberals punching hippies. He’s like comfort food for the Joe Romm wing of the climate community. And pretending that Romm wasn’t trying to strangle the Nisbet report before anyone else could properly digest it is disingenuous.

    Much of Roberts’ disappointment with some liberals taking Nisbet’s report seriously seemed to focus on Bryan Walsh of Time magazine. What Roberts failed to mention is that other liberal voices weren’t so taken in by Romm, either. Here’s Brad Plumer in TNR and Kate sheppard in Mojo, respectively (after paying oblgatory respect to the criticisms–First Plumer:

    “Nisbet’s report is a fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism over the past few years, and he raises a lot of probing questions.”

    And now Sheppard:

    “Fair criticism aside though, I don’t think the report should be dismissed in its entirety, and the defensiveness on display in the green blogosphere has been disappointing, to say the least. There’s a lot of useful analysis of communication strategy in there, and anyone who is honest about the situation knows that there are probably better ways for environmental groups to be spending their money.”

    Like Walsh, both Plumer and Nisbet manage not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  22. Heraclitus says:

    Keith, isn’t that exactly Roberts’ point “Looks like someone succeeded in capturing the narrative, and it wasn’t Romm.”?

  23. jeffn says:

    Romm’s group’s primary fund raising mechanism is the bogus claim that they are being vastly outspent by “industry.” Nisbet showed that’s not true- Romm would be attacking it no matter who produced it or how solid it was.
    There is one flaw in the way many of you are viewing the reframing issue- ie adopting a large number of reasons to stop using fossil fuels such as security, jobs, global warming etc.
    The flaw is that you assume you need to convince them to stop using coal/oil. You don’t- in fact, at this point, you can’t. What you can do is convince them to use X alternative- and there is ample evidence that this route has bi-partisan support.
    Whether you like nuclear power or not is irrelevant- nukes proved without a doubt that this country can and will switch 20% of its power generation away from coal, quickly, without a coal tax and with bi-partisan support (until the greens made it a partisan issue). To do that again you only need one thing- a cost effective genuine alternative. Without that, you’re just chit-chatting about a tax increase.

  24. Bob Koss says:

    Sashka #9
    From your link.
    “What the modeling showed was in communities like Kaktovik, Shell’s drilling would increase air pollution levels close to air quality standards,” said Eric Grafe, Earthjustice’s lead attorney on the case. Earthjustice was joined by Center for Biological Diversity and the Alaska Wilderness League in challenging the air permits.
    The EPA is denying permits that don’t even exceed air quality standards? Close is good enough for a denial? Why have standards if they are arbitrary?
    I hope there was a more substantial reason than that to justify their decision.

  25. Stu says:

    “Paul, have you got any concrete evidence that the 10:10 group made a “PR fail”?”

    You kidding? Their campaign went kaput before it even got out the door. Of course if you believe that any publicity is good publicity…

  26. JohnB says:

    @Bob Koss. The funny part is that the missing factor was an Ice Breaker, according to most green groups the ice is disappearing rapidly.

    Maybe Shell listened to them and thought that they wouldn’t need one. 🙂

  27. Heraclitus says:

    Stu, maybe I should have been clearer what I meant in my question. Paul Kelly had implied that the ‘No Pressure’ film, I assume, had derailed the 10:10 campaign. I was wondering if there was any evidence for this, not if there was evidence that the film itself had been unsuccessful. This seems to me another common but unsupported assertion in this debate. I could be wrong, so I wondered if there was any evidence.

  28. cagw_skeptic99 says:

    My daughter watched a documentary on the death of many worshipers of Jim Jones last night. Got me thinking about the way true believers in ‘climate science’ and catastrophic global warming behave.

    You believe, and it is inconceivable to you that the Republicans and skeptics do not. They must be influenced by the evil carbon fuel industry, how else to explain their opposition to the actions dictated by your deeply held beliefs.

    Most of the energy produced and consumed in the next few decades, and most of the increases in energy production to satisfy rapidly growing economies, will be produced using carbon based fuels. Most of what is not carbon based will be hydro or nuclear. Only a tiny sliver will be what you call renewable energy, and nearly all of that will be highly subsidized and produced in countries that have money to waste.

    Rational people who do not share your beliefs are not about to drink your poison by agreeing to damage their country’s economy or reducing their living standard by paying for substantial amounts of what you call renewable energy. Most of what you call renewable costs more in carbon based energy to produce than what you get out of it anyway.

    The reason you can’t find anyone to dance your tune is that you are viewed as members of an irrational cult. Not really dangerous or harmful unless you gain control of Governments and impose your carbon taxes and other forms of economically damaging nonsense on the rest of us. Once the remaining carbon taxing nuts lose election in the US and Australia, most of the noise will die down. The EPA in the US will be stripped of authority to regulate CO2, and will go back to harassing farmers about dust.

    European countries that have wasted large amounts of money on worthless windmills will continue to pay lip service, and pay much higher prices for electricity, but the loss of jobs and reduced standard of living from exporting those jobs to places without crippling taxes will eventually turn the tide there also.

    There isn’t anyone to have your conversation because there isn’t anything to talk about. Just like talking to someone who believes that aborting a three day old fertilized egg is equivalent to murder. What would we talk about? You believe that CO2 is about to destroy life as we know it, and nothing anyone says or does will affect your belief at all. The science is settled and has been for decades, the only puzzling fact is why so many failed to understand your message. If only the message is refined, revise, taught to school children so they can convince their wayward parents, and so on, your side will win.

    The message isn’t the problem. The problem is that the world will do whatever it will do, and most likely the inhabitants of the world will thrive as they did during the MWP and the Roman warm period. Warm is better than cold, and more CO2 will make the biosphere thrive. It will make growing crops easier in places where warmer temperatures and more rain also help increase productivity.

  29. Stu says:

    Sorry- I thought you were both talking about ‘No Pressure’. I would have thought there was enough evidence that that particular effort was a PR fail. I haven’t followed anything about how 10:10 is doing post that film.

  30. Paul Kelly says:

    I used 10:10 as an example of well focused bottom up activism. The No Pressure vids were a misstep. Rewording “were on the right track before” to “are on the right track regardless of their PR fail” better expresses what I meant.

  31. Heraclitus says:

    Thank you Paul, that clarifies things. It’s just that I’ve come across many people who try to pretend that 10:10 can be dismissed because of their own contrived affront at the No Pressure film.

  32. cagw_skeptic99 says:

    Another way of saying the same thing is that the world will warm or cool as it happens, and CO2 most likely will have only a minor impact.  But even if the impact is significant, the world will continue business as usual because most people would rather have heating, A/C, lights, and refrigerated food than sacrifice those to speculative risks from rising temperatures.
    The AGW crowd only pretends to want a discussion about energy policy.  The only currently practical energy policy for the US is to find more effective ways to use our carbon based and nuclear energy resources to power our economy.
    In the event that someone, and most probably not a Government funded researcher, finds a way to make cheaper energy available, the market will buy that energy.  The commercial interests that solve the problem will become wealthy, and that is the way capitalism works.

  33. harrywr2 says:

    Marlowe Johnson Says:
    April 26th, 2011 at 1:16 pm @4
    “For the life of me I can’t understand how the Republicans are able to get away with opposing clean energy research and efficiency standards”
    We don’t know how much it is going to cost to build nuclear power plants in the US, we have ‘rough’ estimates. The republicans supported  loan guarantees in order to get a ‘starter pair’ of nuclear plants built.
    At the moment we have various ‘experts’ claiming nuclear power plants can be built as cheaply as $4 billion per GW and others claiming $20 billion per GW.
    If ‘reality’ ends up being closer to $20 billion per GW nuclear power will be off the table and the Federal Government will be out $8 billion in loan guarantees.
    If the cost of the demonstration plants comes in closer to $4 billion/GW then the loan guarantees will have prove to be a ‘good idea’ and the nuclear industry in the US will be off and running.
    I’m a republican, I support nuclear power…but at this point hundreds of billions on loan guarantees for nuclear power would be irresponsible. Ask me again in 2-3 years  when Vogtle #3 and #4 are closer to completion and we have a better idea of what the price of ‘frak gas’ is going to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.