King Fossil Fuel has ruled: there will be no Senate debate on global warming this year. And Joe Lieberman's greenwashed campaign gift for John McCain is a no-go.
On June 6 the Senate failed to override a Republican-led filibuster against the bi-partisan Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. It was a stunning victory for a coal-oil-gas industry that will resonate through the presidential campaign and deep into next year's new presidency and Congress.
The legislation was complex and controversial, involving a wide range of potential strategies to fight the climate crisis. At its core were "cap-and-trade" schemes establishing a federal bureaucracy meant to control emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Proposals introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) promoted renewables and efficiency, among other things. Waiting in the wings was a series of amendments which may have set aside roughly a half-trillion dollars for funding new commercial reactor construction.
Cap and trade is a controversial approach that many environmentalists believe will establish an unworkable federal bureaucracy and do little to actually fight global warming, while enriching those corporations (and their lawyers) who learn how to game the system. Boxer's pro-green amendments were generally welcomed as an important start toward what needs to be done. And no major environmental organizations supported the pro-nuke amendments widely expected to be introduced once the bill cleared the filibuster and moved onto the Senate floor.
But it never got that far. In a stunning triumph for the industries most clearly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, thirty-six Senators voted against the cloture motion. They thus killed a substitute bill proposed by Boxer, with assent from Lieberman and Warner, and from GOP presidential nominee John McCain. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) promptly pulled it, meaning there will be no significant climate change legislation from the last Congress of the Bush Era. It was, says the National Association of Manufacturers, "a responsible move by Congress that will save US manufacturing jobs."
In fact, it was a harsh message from the coal, oil and gas industry to the nation as a whole, saying there is little or nothing it will allow that would challenge the unrestricted emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, or the catastrophic impact of eco-hostile energy policies such as the removal of scores of mountain tops in the coal fields of Appalachia.
Led by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), many Senators made it clear they still don't accept the widespread consensus that global warming is a problem, let alone one that should be treated with restrictions on the burning of fossil fuels.
Ironically, the chief loser in this defeat is John McCain. His good friend Joe Lieberman (I-CT), pushed it as a means of demonstrating a commitment to the environment on McCain's behalf. The bill was to be a "green" centerpiece to create some distance from George W. Bush, who had pledged to veto this bill.
But in the public eye, the GOP as a whole now owns the public burden of failing to fight global warming. That includes both McCain and Lieberman.
It also clears the path for a fresh approach. For as far as it got, the national debate on Lieberman-Warner made it clear that the national environmental community is unified in its support for a massive push for renewable energy and efficiency, is unified in its opposition to subsidies for new nuclear power plants, and is deeply divided about the cap-and-trade approach.
And it underscored the reality that a radical change in the White House and Congress must come before the US government can deal seriously with the spiraling crisis of climate chaos. For John McCain and Congressional Republicans, that can only be bad news.
Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030, is at www.solartopia.org. He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for www.freepress.org, where this article first appeared.
© 2008 Harvey Wasserman