Today’s stories illustrate two major disconnects between Congress and the Obama Administration and Congress and the rest of the world. While Obama and his team are pushing for new and significant agreement between the US and China, there is little doubt that it is all being undermined by the inaction in Congress. Boxer, Kerry and others threw in the 2009 towel now on climate change legislation and will take up the measure in Q1 2010. I can only imagine what the Chinese must be thinking as they nod in agreement that much needs to be done – and the US and China can lead the way in Copenhagen next month. Only problem is, the US has nothing – zero – nada – on paper to carry with them to Copenhagen. Sure we have an idea of what emissions targets may pass through Congress, but little else at the moment.
I agree with Sen. Lindsey Graham’s point in the Bloomberg article “Senate Climate Bill Delay Raises Doubt on Chance for U.S. Law” in the Lead Stories. He advocates a simpler way to “price carbon.”

“If we can’t get this down to just two or three hundred pages, we’ve missed the mark,” Graham said in the Bloomberg piece.

The House-passed cap-and-trade bill is 1,428 pages long and the Senate environment committee’s plan runs 959 pages, according to Bloomberg. I don’t want to minimize the complexity of a cap-and-trade market for carbon, but markets and companies like simple straight-forward rules to follow. I grant you, that it is highly unlikely that Graham’s wish will come true, not when there’s a Senator in Nebraska to please, and another in Iowa to convert and another in West Virginia to keep on board.

I’ve long supported the Clean Air Act’s focus on large utilities as a start. They represent the largest chunk of carbon emissions and already are well familiar with the trading of emissions through SOx and Nox, both successful trading programs. The RGGI model, for all of its limitations, has adopted this approach. The roll out could later include more heavy indusrtries and then transportation. The drawback, of course, is that this approach ignores the international nature of the issue. The US is already far behind Europe’s carbon markets.

So Obama and his team continue to make bold statements about their hard work to bring China in line with the US on climate goals. But the fact his, he doesn’t have the Congressional team behind him. He has Congress members like Senator Claire McCaskill who was quoted in the Bloomberg piece saying: “I don’t think anyone’s excited about doing another really, really, big thing that’s really, really hard that makes everybody mad,” McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, told reporters yesterday. “Climate fits that category.” And Congress wonders why they have a pitiful 17% positive approval rating among voters according to the latest Harris Poll. So while world leaders are more worried about a global climate change agreement than ever, members of Congress are even more concerned about getting a little extra in the bill for the “folks back home.”

I’m not sure how that’ll square with the Senator’s grandchildren – “sorry kids it was just really, really hard.” But it makes perfect sense to me. Congress lacks leadership, vision and fortitude and they, perhaps more than anyone, are hanging Obama out to dry and leaving China wondering just who and what they should believe.

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