Congress Takes A Pass On Climate Change
AUDIE CORNISH, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Guy Raz is away. I'm Audie Cornish.
Tony Hayward, the head of BP, appears to be on his way out three months after the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf, and environmental disaster followed. Multiple reports say that Hayward will be replaced with BP's managing director, Robert Dudley.
But while the spill is shaking up the Gulf Coast economy and the oil industry, it hasn't done much to change things in Congress, at least as far as climate change is concerned. That's where we begin this hour, with a look at what killed major climate change legislation and what chances there are of reviving it.
This past week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he doesn't have the votes for a bill to charge companies for carbon pollution.
HARRY REID: Many of us want to do a thorough, comprehensive bill that creates jobs, breaks our addiction to foreign oil, and curbs pollution. Unfortunately at this time, we don't have a single Republican to work with in achieving this goal. For me, it's terribly disappointing and it's also very dangerous.
CORNISH: The only Republican even close to being on board was Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, but he backed off, and the Gulf spill hasn't changed his mind.
LINDSEY GRAHAM: I don't mind pricing carbon in a smart way. I'm not going to use the oil spill as a reason to do it. I think we should expand domestic exploration. My chances of doing that now are zero because of the oil spill.
CORNISH: Joining me now is NPR's David Welna, who's been following the climate change battle on Capitol Hill.
Hello there, David.
DAVID WELNA: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So earlier, we played that clip of Harry Reid, and he was trying to blame the Republicans for the implosion of the comprehensive climate proposal. But frankly, it seemed like he had a lot more trouble with the Democrats in his own caucus.
WELNA: Well, he was right that there are no Republicans right now who are willing to state their support for a comprehensive bill, but there are a number of Democrats as well. It would be very difficult to get to 60, the number you need to overcome a filibuster, without getting those Democrats on board. And right now, it doesn't seem like he's able to do that.
CORNISH: David, one thing I was hoping you could talk about are all the different factions in the Senate pulling one way or the other way when it comes to climate legislation.
WELNA: Absolutely, and you have the environmentalists, of course. You also have others who are very concerned about the prospect that if Congress doesn't do something about climate change, then the Environmental Protection Agency will do something.
And so you've had an effort underway by some moderates in Congress to find some common ground where they might not be imposing carbon restrictions on everybody, but instead, they would start out by targeting them at the utilities, which contribute about 40 percent of the carbon emissions in the country.
And it might surprise you, but many of the utilities were actually interested in working with Congress on getting such legislation passed because they wanted the certainty. They wanted to know what to expect, and they also would prefer to work with lawmakers than have the EPA tell them what to do.
CORNISH: Is part of this evidence that Democrats and President Obama, they've just exhausted their political capital? I mean, did they basically just run out of juice this summer when it came to climate change?
WELNA: Well I think it's a problem of having run out of juice or out of political capital with Senate Republicans in particular on lots of issues, and this is just one of them.
But as I said, this is an issue that also has some Democrats very wary. It's not over yet necessarily. There are some Democrats who say that they will keep working to raise more votes for this, and President Obama, according to Senator Kerry, has committed himself to working this issue as well.
But I think that given the fact that we've got these very crucial midterm elections coming up in November, and there are many Democrat senators, especially, who are vulnerable, they don't want to cast a vote at this point that could be used against them.
And so if we have action this year on comprehensive energy legislation that would include some kind of restrictions on carbon emissions, it would probably happen in the lame duck Congress that follows those elections. At that point, those lawmakers would not have to worry about getting slammed at the polls right afterwards, if they cast a vote in favor of carbon restrictions.
CORNISH: NPR's David Welna on Capitol Hill.
WELNA: You're welcome, Audie.