Making Changes to the Climate in Washington

We thought we had it. In June, when a carbon cap and trade bill passed the House, clean energy supporters rejoiced at the prospect that the U.S. would finally become a leader in reducing emissions and create the long-term framework for a clean energy economy. But when legislation stalled in the Senate and the vitriolic health care debate began, climate change faded into the background.

In recent weeks, however, a few developments have brought climate change back into the spotlight. Firstly, three energy companies – PG&E, PNM Resources and Exelon – have pulled out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of that group’s efforts to fight climate legislation. The Chamber has long denied that human-caused climate change exists. And as the nation’s largest business lobby, it claims that a limit on greenhouse gas emissions will disable the U.S. economy.::continue::

These utilities (and many other energy and non-energy companies) recognize that they need to plan for a carbon-constrained world. With the proper planning now, they can make operations cleaner and more efficient, reduce their liabilities and lower the impact on consumers’ wallets.

Meanwhile, there’s new life to the debate in Congress. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) have introduced a new piece of legislation that will increase the carbon cap and build off an earlier bill that was passed in the House. The bill is seen as a new beginning for the debate in the Senate. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has also introduced a simplified “cap and refund” bill into the Senate that has gotten support for its simplicity.

I spoke with Scott Sklar, a policy expert in Washington, DC about the recent movement in the halls of Congress. He thinks that the health care debate could actually help efforts in the Senate. If Obama gets what he wants, he will have the momentum to help pass a meaningful carbon cap and trade program and a renewable energy standard.

“A win on health care could enable the White House to move on climate legislation, which is the second plank of the President’s agenda. So in the end it could be very good for us,” said Sklar.

But it could go either way, he said.

“On the other hand, if health care gets stalemated, I have a feeling climate legislation could be put on hold.”

There is still a lot of resistance to a cap and trade program from Republicans, but many onlookers are hopeful that the bills will reinvigorate the debate in Washington, bring in more bipartisan support and maybe — maybe — result in a climate bill before the UN COP15 Conference in Copenhagen this December.

Even if a bill isn’t passed in time, the President has shown his commitment to the cause of combating climate change. This is the third big development that has helped renew focus on the issue. Speaking at a UN event in New York last week, Obama reiterated his dedication to the cause, reassuring other world leaders that the U.S. is on board with international negotiations.

“This is a new day. A new era. And we can say that the U.S. has done more to promote clean energy in the last 8 months than in any other time in history,” said Obama.

And he is right.

Despite all the complicated negotiations and misinformation surrounding the climate debate, the shift that we’ve seen in the climate of Washington, DC has been very positive. These recent developments prove just how different things are today.

“This is really happening,” said Sklar. “If you compare where we were three years ago to now, it is really incredible to see how far we’ve come. I think we’re going to win the day.”

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I am a reporter with, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in touch through twitter! My profile name is: Stphn_Lacey

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