I’ve come here to this community for a discussion about many issues, from the war in Iraq to filibustering Sam Alito to stopping drilling in the Arctic --and many others.
And now I’m glad that the folks (special thanks to Meteor Blades and Patriot Daily) here are coordinating this period to try and focus discussion on an issue I’m working on hours and hours each week in the Senate -- climate change and the effort to build a new, clean energy economy to help address it.
A few times when I’ve been here, and then followed up on the comments, I’ve seen a thread run through the discussion: sort of a, “why is John Kerry preaching to the choir/we all get it.”
So – informed by that – let me skip the things I think we all know and already share – and I’ll hit a few points in the run-up to Copenhagen that I think have perhaps not been fleshed out as much and ought to be in the mix – ten things that are important to keep in the back of all of our minds as we both understand this process and help push it forward
- Yes, health care and a whole lot of other debates have sucked up plenty of oxygen but there’s been a massive behind the scenes effort on climate in the Senate. But there’s also been tangible progress in the 12 months since leaders gathered in Poznan: Firm commitments from China, India, and Brazil. A climate bill passed by the US House of Representatives and two Senate Committees, and let’s not lose sight of three major steps the Obama Administration has taken. First, President Obama’s announcement that the United States’ opening negotiating position is a reduction greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 is an important step to get other large emitters on board by showing that the United States will do its part. Second, the United States has rightly focused on China’s role in global climate change, and as a result, China recently announced a reduction target in carbon intensity of 40-45% by 2020 on the heels of President Obama’s trip there and his announcement of an emissions target. The United States and China also signed a raft of joint agreements on clean energy cooperation, which pave the way for cooperation with other countries such as India. And third – the EPA’s endangerment finding is no small deal – more on that next.
- The EPA’s announcement – it’s a really important message for everyone in the Senate. It tells reluctant Senators that there’s no ducking the issue. And it gives powerful forces in their states a reason to actually want the Senate to act – because imposed regulations by definition will not include the job protections and investment incentives we are proposing in the Senate today. In other words - some who now aim to grind the legislative process to a halt would later come running to Congress to secure the kinds of incentives we can pass today. So instead, the EPA announcement gives folks like me and Lindsey Graham a powerful message to use to push action on the legislation to get those incentives and job protections I mentioned.
- You’re going to hear some people – including I’d guess some of our allies on this issue – say that we should be farther along in Copenhagen. I’ve been going to these meetings for 17 years; trust me, no one wishes we were farther along than I do. But – don’t underestimate the difference it makes for the US to be sending a President who is constructively engaged. Don’t measure Copenhagen’s success by unanimity; you’ll always be disappointed. Do we still have our differences with other countries on climate change? Of course. But 60 heads of state aren’t traveling to Denmark in the dead of winter to make excuses. They are coming to make a commitment, and for the first time in a decade, a global breakthrough is within our reach.
- OK, Kerry, you’re probably asking – what’s the breakthrough? What can we accomplish here in Copenhagen? Countries of the world need to leave Copenhagen more convinced that a deal is doable—and more committed to building momentum, building trust, and creating a virtuous circle where every nation’s new commitments empower others to go further.
- It’s true we are not agreeing to something legally binding in Copenhagen. But this can still be a watershed moment if we come home with a comprehensive political agreement at the highest level; with demonstrable progress on targets and timetables, verification, financing, and a process to coming back together to take these promises and make them legally binding.
- All politics is still local. The place where the results in Copenhagen may reverberate the loudest is the United States Senate. Things are already moving -- Senator Robert Byrd, the longest serving member of Congress ever, author of the 1998 Byrd-Hagel amendment many associate with the death of the Kyoto Protocol, wrote just this month, “To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say “deal me out.” West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table.” Copenhagen is so important because it offers an answer to the question we hear from so many Senators: “if I cast this vote, and we reduce our emissions, where’s the guarantee that other countries will act too?” President Obama has defined a path to an international agreement that challenges the developed and developing nations of the to fulfill their obligations; it is an important counter to those on the fence at home who believe that the United States shouldn’t act if other countries won’t join with us.
- The Majority Leader is a tough position – there’s no tougher job than Majority Leader in the Senate; the phrase “herding cats” has never been more apt – but he’s gutsy as hell – despite the campaign of his life, he’s committed to get this bill on the floor early in 2010. But, I think we’ve all seen plenty of times, the Majority Leader can’t push a reluctant caucus by himself, the myth of LBJ just doesn’t fit the reality of today’s Senate. We will need your help then to push and prod some Democrats. Including some favorites here who haven’t yet stepped out on this issue.
- I’m relaunching my website Truth Fights Back to combat the smears and untruths that are coming our way and will only intensify as this debate congeals. I’ll have more on that another day.
- We’re not going to have a perfect bill. I wish we could. But like Ted Kennedy taught us, you fight for the ideal but you keep your eye on the prize to get progress any way, anyhow. Yes, the road to 60 votes includes some nuclear power and some other pieces that you wouldn’t have to consider if you had 60 Senators named Kerry or Gore. But the planet can’t wait for perfection.
- No matter the ways you disagree with him on other issues or on who should be President (and he and I joke that we noisily debated Obama vs. McCain on every show except the Food Channel) – give Lindsey Graham credit for having a backbone of steel on this issue and working with me.
So there’s the reality of the debate as clearly as I can lay it out. I’m not going to come here and blow smoke; it’s already a tough fight, and it’s just going to get tougher. We’re going to have to push hard on some Democrats who aren’t all the way there yet, and give some support to some Republicans who will work with us. And we have to work like hell to influence the debate and politics of this every way we can until it’s a lot harder to oppose this legislation than it is to support it.
update: A lot of great comments in here. I have to run to catch a flight home to Boston, but I'll try to loop back later if I can. And I'll read through all the comments for sure on my flight back to DC tomorrow.