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It is important to know when you are winning…

October 5, 2010

Last Wednesday, Senator Rockefeller’s (D WV) Stationary Source Regulations Delay Act (S. 3072) quietly gave up the ghost.  The end was so quiet and subtle, that it would be easy to miss the fact that we – people who want to do something about climate change – just won something important. 

Senator Rockefeller’s comments on the event require some translation.  He said that his bill deserved to have a vote but would not be reached in the busy lame duck session.  He also said that it would not be fair to his Democratic colleagues to comment on whether he plans to reintroduce it in the next Congress.  He has been complaining about Republicans jumping on his band wagon without consulting him. 

Translation:  He has less than sixty votes and maybe less than 50.  He has stated in the press that he had 53 votes for his measure, but no one else has reported a majority in favor of the bill.  Without the votes, the Senate majority leader, Senator Reid (D NV) would not allow him precious time in the lame-duck session.  This is significant because several Democrats voted against Senator Murkowski’s resolution (S. J. Res 26) to stop EPA in June only because they were promised a chance to vote on his bill.  As you may remember FCNL lobbied against that measure, which was narrowly defeated.   

Senator Rockefeller must have been under significant pressure from other Democrats to back off to avoid further alienating the democratic base right before the election.  There may have been Republicans who were relieved not to have this vote.  His family was probably pressuring him too.  The Rockefellers, both individually and through the family foundations, have been committed to conservation and environmental issues for three generations.  For example, Laurence Rockefeller has worked for the Natural Resources Defense Counsel his whole professional life and currently serves on their board.  If they all get together for Thanksgiving, I doubt that anyone would have spoken to Jay over the turkey. 

Senator Rockefeller acknowledged that his bill was only a “message”.  Even if it had 60 votes in the Senate it still had to pass the House and President Obama promised a veto.  In reality all EPA will do in January of 2011 is propose regulations for the largest stationary sources.  It normally takes two years before a final rule is issued and industry actually has to reduce its emissions. 

But symbolic votes have great importance.  They are tests of political strength and fitness without a lot of harm to the contestants, much like elk locking horns or peacocks strutting their stuff.  We won this test and that is cause for celebration in a year that produced little good news on climate and energy legislation.  

Why do I think the demise of S. 3072 is a significant victory?  Because republicans are acting as though it is significant. The very next day there was a flood of energy bills with bipartisan or Republican sponsorship were dropped in the hopper.  Apparently there is growing acceptance  that Congress cannot stop EPA.  With 60% of Americans stating in polls that they want their government to do something about climate change, it is dangerous not to do something on this issue. 

Who are “we”, who just won this contest of political strength?  “We” obviously includes you, FCNL, “big green” and “little green”.  But the opposition to tampering with the Clean Air Act or crippling EPA is much broader and deeper than the usual insiders anticipated.  Who knew that Asthma Alliance of North Carolina, Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, Arizona Latin-American Medical Association (ALMA) and Project Economic Refugee along with thousands of other groups all opposed undermining EPA’s authority to deal with climate change?  The 60% in the polls finally spoke up.

It would be a big mistake to miss this message.  “Big Green” and the press have always assumed that these issues are “environmental” and “environmentalists” do not have the numbers or power to pass climate legislation without many up front concessions to the regulated industry.  Now we have evidence that that assumption should be questioned.  

It is important to know when you are winning.

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