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Climate Bill, R.I.P.

Instead of taking the fight to big polluters, President Obama has put global warming on the back burner

July 21, 2010 8:15 AM ET
President Barack Obama climate change
President Barack Obama
Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A comprehensive energy and climate bill – the centerpiece of President Obama's environmental agenda – is officially dead. Take it from the president's own climate czar, Carol Browner. "What is abundantly clear," she told Rolling Stone in an exclusive interview on July 8th, "is that an economy-wide program, which the president has talked about for years now, is not doable in the Senate."

The Spill, The Scandal and the President

But the failure to confront global warming – central not only to Obama's presidency but to the planet itself – is not the Senate's alone. Rather than press forward with a climate bill in the Senate last summer, after the House had passed landmark legislation to curb carbon pollution, the administration repeated many of the same mistakes it made in pushing for health care reform. It refused to lay out its own plan, allowing the Senate to bicker endlessly over the details. It pursued a "stealth strategy" of backroom negotiations, supporting huge new subsidies to win over big polluters. It allowed opponents to use scare phrases like "cap and tax" to hijack public debate. And most galling of all, it has failed to use the gravest environmental disaster in the nation's history to push through a climate bill – to argue that fossil-fuel polluters should pay for the damage they are doing to the atmosphere, just as BP will be forced to pay for the damage it has done to the Gulf.

Top environmental groups, including Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, are openly clashing with the administration, demanding that Obama provide more hands-on leadership to secure a meaningful climate bill. "We really need the president to take the lead and tell us what bill he's going to support," says Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund. "If he doesn't do that, then everything he's done so far will lead to nothing."

The Vanishing Ice Sheets

But Obama, so far, has shown no urgency on the issue, and little willingness to lead – despite a June poll showing that 76 percent of Americans believe the government should limit climate pollution. With hopes for an economy-wide approach to global warming dashed, Congress is now weighing a scaled-back proposal that would ratchet down carbon pollution from the nation's electric utilities. It has come to this: The best legislation we can hope for is the same climate policy that George W. Bush promoted during the 2000 campaign. Even worse, the "utilities first" approach could wind up stripping the EPA of its newfound authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.

BP's Next Disaster

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