22 november 2009

NEW YORK TIMES Editorial, November 22, 2009

The Senate’s Duty on Climate

The news that world leaders have abandoned hope for a comprehensive,
legally binding climate change treaty in Copenhagen next month
inspired no end of finger-pointing. Environmentalists blamed eight
years of inaction under George W. Bush. The Europeans noted that the
Chinese and several other big developing nations had done little to
move the ball forward.

Our own candidate for criticism is the United States Senate. We cannot
rewrite the Bush years any more than we can persuade the Chinese of
the merits of a binding treaty to control greenhouse gases. What the
United States can do is assume responsibility for its own emissions,
and this the Senate has manifestly failed to do.

It is asking a lot of the Senate to address health care and climate
change at the same time, although the House managed to do both. It is
also true that a preoccupied White House has applied almost no
pressure. But the indecisiveness of the Senate’s Democratic leaders is
worrisome, as is the Republicans’ reflexive and virtually unanimous
hostility to anything that challenges the way this country produces
and uses energy.

There are exceptions. The Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Jeff
Bingaman have produced bills that could form the basis of a broad
measure curbing emissions and ushering in alternative energy sources.
But Harry Reid, the majority leader, seems at times like a man who
wishes the climate change issue would go away. Last week, he suggested
that he could not bring a bill forward until “sometime in the spring,”
and that even then it would be sold as an economic stimulus bill.

With very few exceptions, the Republicans have behaved terribly. They
refused en masse to show up when Ms. Boxer tried to get a committee
vote on a bill, claiming they had been denied an analysis of the
bill’s impact on the economy. When Ms. Boxer summoned officials to
provide such an analysis, they boycotted again.

This sends a bad signal to the rest of the world. In Beijing, Mr.
Obama suggested that the United States would be willing to put some
“emission reduction targets” on the table in Copenhagen. These would
be aspirational, not binding, and would presumably reflect the goals
contained in the House bill, which calls for a 17 percent reduction in
United States emissions by 2020. Their main purpose would be to show
that the United States is committed to change. But how credible can
even this modest goal be if the Senate is largely indifferent?

Though there is no chance the Senate will produce a bill in the next
three weeks, we have a modest suggestion. That is for Mr. Obama to
appear quickly and publicly with Ms. Boxer, Mr. Bingaman, Mr. Reid,
and climate stalwarts like John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey
Graham (a Republican outlier) and announce that climate change will be
an early order of business next year and that he will not rest until
he gets a bill.

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