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Environmental Groups: Stop the Push for Global Warming Legislation

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Message to environmental groups. Stop the emails telling me that it is urgent to bring global warming legislation up for a vote in the Senate. Over the past two weeks, I have must have received twenty emails (yes, I am a junkie for environmental activism).

Today, E&E Reporter posted an article with the following headline:

CLIMATE: Senate trio courts industry in bid to pre-empt ad war (03/17/2010) Darren Samuelsohn, E&E reporter

The first sentence of the story? "The lead authors of the Senate climate bill are courting key members of an industry coalition that once cheered on Dick Cheney's energy policies."

It is time to admit the truth -- no legislation that actually addresses global warming will pass the Senate this year. With the great majority of the Republican minority committed to a no vote on almost anything, and with senators beholden to powerful coal (think Sen. Rockefeller), oil (think Sen. Murkowski) and nuclear (think Sen. Alexander) only interested in legislation that actually advances their destructive industries, this is a terrible climate to insist that there must be a vote. Anything that could get a supermajority will be a terrible bill.

And the bad news is that the Senate context will probably be worse next year.

There are several culprits, of course, but the biggest one is the tradition of a 60 vote filibuster in the Senate. There might be 50 senators willing to vote for legislation that would start to address global warming, but there are surely not 60. And senators 51 to 60 - that is, the senators needed to get to a sufficient number to break a filibuster - are almost entirely representative of the dirty fuel crowd.

And there price will be extremely high. It took $80 billion of subsidies to the dirtiest industry around - the coal industry - to get a handful of coal state Democrats to vote for a global warming bill in the House where only a majority is required. In the Senate, almost by definition, that $80 billion would be much bigger - and that is just for coal. The nuclear industry wants $100 billion. And these are some of the same people who say we cannot afford universal health care. Their audacity is breathtaking but effective.

I have no doubt that the planet is warming rapidly. I believe we must act rapidly and aggressively to slow and then reverse the accumulation of global warming gases. But the bitter reality is that Senate has demonstrated far beyond a shadow of a doubt that it cannot produce legislation that will move us forward.

Of course, we should not give up just because the Senate has been captured by hostile forces. We have to put as much fight into what can be done by regulatory agencies under the temporary control of President Obama. Coal plants can be denied permits. Appliance efficiency standards can be tightened. The Environmental Protection Agency can be defended against powerful efforts to prevent it from enforcing the Clean Air Act.

As long as we pretend that it is possible to pass strong global warming legislation through the Senate, the longer we waste the efforts of millions of committed environmentalists.

We can handle the truth. It is time to fight on a more favorable battlefield.

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