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Who Killed the Climate Bill?

Author: Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies
July 23, 2010
Foreign Policy

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The U.S. economy killed the climate bill. Its main accomplices were congressional Republican obstructionism, an anemic White House effort, and misplaced reliance on industry and environmental interest groups to deliver votes.

In January 2009, when President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the smart money on cap and trade was betting on a climate bill just as soon as U.S. employment recovered. That, in most people's minds, meant that we'd have to wait until 2011 or so for a bill. That basic logic hasn't changed. Indeed, things have only gotten worse. Unemployment is more painful than originally predicted. Democratic efforts to reframe cap and trade as jobs legislation, meanwhile, have largely failed. Americans wants assurances, not experiments, and cap and trade doesn't do that for them.

Why, then, the apparent surprise at the climate bill's demise? People have forgotten the economic fundamentals that were so obvious 18 months ago. The House-passed Waxman-Markey bill gave advocates too much hope, even though the bill actually passed with fewer votes than most had once anticipated. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) added another shot of optimism when he teamed up with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) late last year--but he has been gone from the picture for months. Climate advocates figured that the oil spill might push things over the top, but no one really explained why paying more for coal-fired electricity would prevent underwater blowouts.

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