Following Senator Harry Reid’s decision to pull the plug on climate legislation Thursday, news sites lit up with lit up with analyses of who was to blame. As well they should; this is a major story. But if you don’t get your news online, you were likely out of this story’s loop.
Democrats don’t have the votes to push for a bill that would cap greenhouse gases (even one aimed only at utilities) or establish renewable energy standards, Reid said. Instead, the Senate will pursue a much weaker bill. Details remain sketchy, but Mother Jones reports that the weaker bill will eliminate a cap on companies’ financial liability for oil spills, reform regulation of the oil and gas industry, and devote funds to promoting natural-gas vehicles, home energy efficiency, and the Land & Water Conservation Fund—but won’t do much toward President Obama’s campaign pledge to start to move the nation off a petroleum economy.
Accounts of Reid’s announcement began to appear on the Web sites and blogs of major news outlets just after noon yesterday. But in print, the failure of one of the Obama’s administration’s top policy priorities and campaign pillars does not seem to be front-page news. Why?
In The New York Times, the story is on A15, comprising 723 words. A search of Lexis-Nexis shows that The Washington Post ran it on page two at 457 words, the Los Angeles Times ran it on page fourteen at 659 words, and The Wall Street Journal ran it on page three at 1,035 words. The Boston Globe cobbled something together from the wires on page two, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an abridged version of the LA Times’s article on page six, McClatchy’s D.C. bureau filed a 1,075-word piece, and, according to Google, dozens of smaller papers are running articles from The Associated Press, Bloomberg, and Reuters.
While all of these articles were decent spot news accounts of Reid’s announcement, one would expect—given the substantial defeat that it represented for Democrats and the Obama administration—that a few front-page news analyses would have been in order. That’s not to say such analyses don’t exist. While its newsroom couldn’t muster any deep thoughts, The New York Times’s editorial board deserves credit for hitting hard with a lead editorial, which pointed the finger primarily at Obama and the Democrats for letting climate legislation die “with a whimper”:
[D]espite the opportunity offered by the oil spill to press for a bold energy policy, the president essentially disappeared. What has passed for advocacy by the White House in recent days has consisted largely of one op-ed article by the energy adviser, Carol Browner, and daily assurances from the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, that the White House was “working behind the scenes.”
The editorial also noted that, “Republicans obviously bear a good part of the responsibility for this failure. With a handful of exceptions, they have denied or played down the problem of global warming for years and did pretty much anything they could to protect industry from necessary regulation.” Whether climate legislation’s defeat is due to the Republican impasse or the Democrats’ inability to break to break that impasse with better strategy is a very good question and worthy of debate until we are blue in the face. But the Time’s editorial was pretty much the only thoughtful commentary to be found in print; the rest was online.
The Times’s environment blogger Andrew Revkin had an interesting enumeration of all the things that Obama has not done to promote climate legislation, including “a substantial speech focused on the responsibility of the world’s greatest emitter of greenhouse gases to face up to the long-term risks posed by the rising human influence on the climate system and pursue the opportunities that lie in a sustained ‘energy quest.’”
Elsewhere, the Times’s Web site carried two good analyses—“Sen. Reid’s Decision on Climate Bill Leaves D.C. Scrambling to Pick Up the Pieces” and “Senate Abandons Climate Effort, Dealing Blow to President”—that delved into the ramifications of the Senate leadership’s decision, but both of them came from E&E Publishing’s Climatewire, an editorial partner.