Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to Get Climate Legislation Through Congress?

If President Obama was serious in his inaugural address about seriously dealing with the problem of climate change (and, no, I do not take him at his word), then the question becomes, how does he expect to get legislation through Congress. Over at LegalPlanet.com (here), Jonathan Zasloff offers the  intriguing suggestion of a horse-trade: in exchange for approving the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, something Republicans (and some Democrats) desperately want the President to do, would they be willing to drop their opposition to a climate bill of approximately the same type the House passed in 2010?

Generally speaking, I like the idea of such a compromise, but I have a hard time believing it would work. In the first place, it's not obvious to me that either side is willing to compromise. The Republicans, in particular, think that they win no matter what President Obama decides on Keystone XL. If he approves the pipeline, they get what they want: cheap, incredibly dirty oil from Canada. If he doesn't approve the pipeline, many Republicans believe Obama would take a substantial political hit, which they also want because it would weaken support for the rest of his ambitious agenda. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are adamantly opposed to the permitting of Keystone XL and would likely denigrate as too weak any climate law that Congress might pass in exchange for Obama's approval of the pipeline. That is to say, even if room existed for compromise, there would likely be so much disagreement over the respective values of the quid and the quo that no deal would be struck.

Despite my pessimism, I hope that someone in Washington is paying attention to Zasloff's suggestion because it's exactly the kind of practical horse-trading that has become far too rare as the nation's capital has become increasingly polarized ideologically.

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