May 19, 2009
Senate Says No to Pollution Pricing Paradigm
Republicans deftly succeeded in calling greens and Democrats on their bluff that cap and trade won't cost anything, winning yesterday an 89 to 8 vote on a resolution stating that any climate legislation must not raise gasoline or electricity prices. The Senate vote is timed to coincide with yesterday's release of a climate bill "discussion draft" in the House (more on that bill from the Breakthrough Blog coming soon).
The implications of this vote are that just eight out of 100 senators believe, and have the courage of their convictions, to openly state that fossil fuel prices should rise to deal with climate change. That is to say, there are only eight senators who agree with Thomas Friedman, EDF, NRDC, David Leonhardt, AEI, and all the others who believe that the most important, and perhaps only thing we should do to combat climate change and drive clean energy innovation is to set a price on carbon.
(I exclude Al Gore from that list given his recent embrace of public investment in clean energy)
That's a pretty stunning number -- the clearest indication yet that a strategy requiring a high price on carbon to succeed is doomed to political failure.
I guess this vote is perfectly fine if you believe that fossil fuels are simply no less expensive than clean energy. But for those who recognize the real price gap between emerging clean energy technologies and their well-entrenched dirty energy competitors and believe that a "price signal" is the key to radical transformation of the global energy economy, this seems to be yet another sign that meaningful action on climate change is not in the cards anytime soon (with an emphasis on "meaningful").
Procedurally speaking, this vote doesn't present any new hurdles for climate policy, beyond the 60 votes already required to clear any climate policy out of the Senate. What this is really all about is preparation for a torrent of television ads and direct mail leaflets that will be unleashed in October 2010 and the run-up to Republicans taking back both houses of Congress against "Democratic excesses." Republicans will use yesterday's vote to campaign against anyone who "breaks their promise" and casts a vote for a cap and trade bill.