My colleague and environmental policy expert Brad Plumer is as gloomy on the job as he is cheerful in person. When I see him in the office, I like to tease him by waving my hands wildly in the air and saying "we're dooooooomed." Unfortunately for me and the rest of you, Brad happens to know what he's talking about. Climate catastrophe seems imminent, but most Republicans and quite a few Democrats remain opposed to meaningful climate change legislation.
President Obama and his allies say they will try to pass something and environmental groups are doing what they can to help. But, as Brad reports today, the dim prospects for success are dimming further, as Republicans do everything they can to stall deliberations. Senators could decide to stay in session longer--to "take their jobs seriously, and get to work addressing perhaps the biggest issue facing the country (and planet)," as Brad puts it. They do not seem so inclined.
Still, Brad passes along one other, intriguing tidbit.
Following the lead of Robert Byrd, the late Senator from West Virginia, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan has started pleading with the coal interests in his state to soften its historic opposition to climate change legislation. The news come from a report by Politico's Coral Davenport:
“Regulations are coming in the future. If coal does nothing, coal will lose,” Dorgan said in an interview with POLITICO. “The reason I have reached out to the coal industry is that they’ve been on the defensive position, not negotiating with anyone, and they’re going to lose under that. With or without carbon regulations, there will be a substantial conversion to natural gas, and coal will lose.” Dorgan said that while it looks increasingly unlikely that a climate change bill will pass this year, he does believe a price on carbon is inevitable in the coming years—a message he also pressed on his coal allies.
A big reason Democrats finally passed health care reform this year, after so many decades of trying, is that traditional opponents of reform in the health care industry dropped their opposition and started campaigning for it. They did so largely to be practical. If reform was inevitable, they felt, they were better off shaping the legislation than fighting it. (Better to be at the table than on the menu, as the saying goes.) They succeeded and, thanks to the sweetheart deals the industries got, the Affordable Care Act is in many ways flawed. But it is also law of the land.
If the coal industry undergoes a similar transformation, even a partial one, climate change legislation could stand a chance. It will surely include the same wince-inducing compromises. But it will also be law.
And then maybe Brad will stop making me feel so glum.
Note: Updated with edits for clarity.