In fact, given E&E’s consistently laudable coverage of energy and environment issues on Capitol Hill, it should be no surprise that Politico—which recently made the wise decision to hire former E&E staffer Darren Samuelsohn—has come out with a few strong pieces about climate legislation’s demise. After a straight news article with Coral Davenport on Thursday, Samuelsohn and Manu Raju followed up with a piece about Obama catching “heat” over the lack of leadership on global warming. Samuelsohn also contributed a long analysis of the “blame game,” which, like the Times’s editorial, delved into the responsibility of Democrats, Republicans, environmentalists, and others. As in many such accounts, much of the culpability is laid on the Obama’s shoulders. Samuelsohn quotes quote Eric Pooley—deputy editor of Bloomberg Business Week and author of the recent book, The Climate War—who told him that, “The absence of direct, intense presidential leadership doomed this process.”
Pooley also made an appearance in one of the best explorations (and a rare print-edition treatment) of the how and why climate legislation withered on the vine. The article, by Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson (who has been hammering at the Obama’s environmental record), was actually published before Reid’s announcement, when a utilities-only cap-and-trade bill still seemed viable, but it is entirely thorough in its analysis. Again, the blame is directed mostly at Obama:
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.
It would be wonderful to see similar (if perhaps less advocacy-oriented), step-by-step breakdowns of how climate legislation went off the rails in national newspapers and magazines (online, Time took a better stab at it than Newsweek). It’s a blame game worth playing. Much like BP’s oil spill in the Gulf, we need to understand what, exactly, went wrong in order to fix it. And sooner rather than later, media pundits need to start thinking about where we go from here.
A good start down that road is an essay by The Breakthrough Institute’s Jesse Jenkins at The Huffington Post, in which he argues:
Cap and trade has repeatedly failed because it doesn’t address the main barrier to the widespread deployment of clean energy technologies: the technology-based price gap between new clean energy and mature fossil fuels…
Given the stakes for both the global climate and the nation’s economic outlook, we can’t afford yet another episode in the serial failure of the cap and trade strategy.
This moment demands a fundamentally new strategy designed to overcome the inherent political obstacles to carbon pricing and simultaneously achieve the primary objective upon which our climate future hinges: in real, unsubsidized terms.
I’m not sure that entirely agree with Jenkins’ assessment of cap-and-trade’s merits, but he is correct that policymakers and pundits must consider whether or not a wholly new policy strategy is in order. Here’s an idea: the team and The Breakthrough Institute has repeatedly clashed with the team at The Center for American Progressive—the former favoring a direct public investment in clean-energy technology deployment and innovation, the latter favoring a price on carbon. These organizations are great candidates to help journalists read the ashes of climate legislation, since the total failure of that legislation gives neither outfit what it wants. With the weak bill that the Senate now intends to pursue threatening to render their often-vitriolic debate about clean-tech R&D versus cap-and-trade moot, it would be interesting for reporters to ask those two now if they can find common ground toward a new policy path.
After all, if two organizations that both profess a deep concern for the environment cannot resolve their differences, what chance is their that progressive Democrats, Blue-Dog Democrats, and Republicans will ever resolve theirs? That is the kind of question the public needs to hear—and the kind more journalists should be asking.