Let’s return to Annie Leonard’s profoundly ignorant attack on the cap-and-trade bill working its way through congress. Leonard’s primary contention is that the bill is a con job cooked up by Wall Street. We know this to be false both because it doesn’t make any sense and because it’s easy to trace the actual lobbying on the bill to the usual suspects.
But in a way this analysis of lobbying dollars is still a step removed from the more fundamental issue: a large bloc of legislators simply have no interest in climate change. For structural reasons, this problem is particularly devilish in the Senate, but the House of Representatives is hardly an environmental utopia.
To take a random example, the Wall Street Journal last summer profiled Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota. You’ve probably never heard of Collin Peterson, but a few short months ago he held the fate of climate change legislation in his hands, and therefore, in a fairly literal sense, Collin Peterson dictated the future of the planet. How did he wield this God-like responsibility?
> Mr. Peterson, who was first elected to Congress in 1990, wants the party’s leaders to soften the climate bill’s impact on coal-burning power plants, scale back existing regulation of ethanol, and make other changes that, if adopted, could steer huge sums of money to farmers who engage in environmentally friendly practices…
> Mr. Peterson wants the climate measure changed to allow coal-burning power plants to get free of charge more of the permits they will be required to hold in order to generate carbon dioxide…
> After the administration released a report last week by government scientists warning of increased heat, pests, water shortages, disease and other impacts of climate change on crop and livestock production, Mr. Peterson laughed and said farmers in his district would welcome warmer temperatures after a recent cold spell.
Although it’s certainly possible that Collin Peterson’s decisions are being dictated by industry lobbyists, there’s no particular need to resort to conspiracy theories. More likely, Peterson doesn’t think climate change is a big deal, but he’s willing to have his vote bought if it means he can steer more money to his farm constituency. Hooray for democracy.
Of course, a bill eventually did get though the House. Our deeply dysfunctional Senate, on the other hand, requires a super-majority of 60 senators to agree on any significant piece of legislation. So what’s going on in the Senate? Well, in December, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb warned Obama not to get too cute in Copenhagen. This was shortly after he indicated he would not vote for a carbon cap, and instead offered his own energy plan, consisting of a massive handout to the nuclear industry. Again, there’s no need to go hunting for conspiracies here. Webb is from coal-rich Virginia. He’s a Democrat, but a conservative one, and he’s not particularly interested in climate change.
I haven’t singled these two out because they’re the two most evil members of our government. On the contrary, they’re fairly typical politicians with parochial interests tied to the regions they represent. Nor have I said anything at all about Republicans, whose utter unwillingness to negotiate on this issue gives enormous leverage to people like Collin Peterson, who are willing to bargain away their votes.
This state of affairs is certainly depressing. What’s to be done? For starters, it would be helpful if pseudo-environmentalists like Annie Leonard stopped making up bogus anti-corporatist conspiracy theories about the legislation we’re trying to pass. It’s true that the bills under consideration aren’t perfect, but that’s because too many politicians — and too many Americans — don’t want a perfect bill.
It would also be helpful to stop blaming Barack Obama for failing to deploy the magical powers he uses when we really, really wants Congress to do something for him. His hands were tied in Copenhagen by the U.S. Senate, and they’re tied at home by the U.S. Senate. Basically, the whole damned world’s hands are tied by the U.S. Senate.
Finally, it would be useful to focus energy *on the U.S. Senate*. This is easiest during election years, of course, but you can always drop a note to your senators expressing support for a climate change bill. They like to hear from you, and you can be sure they’re hearing from local utility owners…