Over the past few weeks, I have written about the status of the energy and climate bill in the Senate and the recent accident in the Gulf of Mexico with the sinking of an oil rig and the resulting three leaks that are pumping oil into the gulf. These events have given rise to great doubts and great hope when it comes to our nation’s ability to successfully develop legislation that is necessary to ensure a sustainable energy future for our country, a key to our continued success as a world power.
The departure of Senator Graham from the negotiating table (see post on April 28th) lowered supporters hopes as a nail in the coffin of a bi(tri)-partisan agreement for energy and climate legislation in 2010. But, the subsequent accident in the Gulf has given the same group hope that, when faced with the real negative environmental impacts of our current dependence on oil, citizens will step up and demand that we protect our country’s precious ecosystems, wildlife, waterways, and air. They hope, perhaps realistically, that we can pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation before midterm elections get into full swing.
The oil leaks in the Gulf of Mexico have already caused irreversible damage and as the oil continues to flow, the number of casualties in the form of ecosystems and wildlife will only increase despite the commendable efforts of the United States Coast Guard. How to best stop these leaks and contain the oil is being debated, with consensus arising only with the statement that there will be significant negative environmental impact to our coastline, no matter what we do.
The silver lining to this disaster is the awareness that it has drawn to the negative impacts of offshore drilling. The oil industry has an impressive record when it comes to safety on their oil rigs and significant spills are rare occurrences. But, drilling for oil is not without risks as clearly seen by this latest incident. It reminds us of what can happen when the oil we depend on to fuel our cars is let loose in our oceans.
What does this mean for energy and climate legislation? While my heart has saddened at the sight of the spreading oil slick in the Gulf, my hope has also grown. I hope that this latest incident will bring Senator Graham back to the table, ideally with his Republican colleagues. I hope that we will come together as a nation to make tough decisions that will ensure the success of our country, without sacrificing our land, water and air.
The energy and climate baton has been held by the Senate since last June, after the House passed their own bill (H.R. 2454). Over the past several months, the baton has been carried by three Senators:
- Lieberman – an Independent from Connecticut
- Kerry – a Democrat from Massachusetts (also the home state of Representative Markey, a primary author on the House bill)
- Graham – a Republican from South Carolina
Their work has been a commendable effort – three individuals with significant differences with regard to basic political ideologies working together to develop an energy and climate bill that each could live with. In a government that (from the outside looking in) still appears heavily entrenched in partisan politics, these three gentlemen’s efforts gave rise to the hope that we could – united as a country – successfully develop the legislation that will lead our country to the sustainable energy future that will be key in our continued success as a world power.
The past week has brought these hopes to a sharp precipice, where all but the most dedicated appear ready to let go of their hopes for comprehensive energy and climate legislation before midterm elections hit this November. This shift occurred as Americans watched the third musketeer, Senator Graham, step away from the table just days prior to the planned release of the bill. His reason for walking away from this process – his belief that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was going to put immigration reform ahead of energy and climate on the legislative docket.
Immigration reform has long been on President Obama’s agenda. It is not a new topic – having been explored in past administrations (we still have not forgotten the Bush border fence). But, until Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer but pen to paper on Friday, immigration reform had not been the top item on the congressional to-do list. Her state’s controversial immigration law has drawn America’s fire, being called “hysterical naitivism” that puts the conservative border state “at risk of becoming a police state” and at the same time attracts support from 70% of Arizona residents according to a recent poll. Regardless of your position on Arizona’s law, there is no doubt that it has heated up the push toward federal immigration policy reform.
Senator Graham has long been an advocate for immigration reform and expects to be involved in the process, which he believes may not be a feasible option given his time commitments to energy and climate legislation. He further justified stepping away from his work with Senators Kerry and Lieberman in part through voicing his belief that immigration reform would be put ahead of energy and climate on the legislative docket because of Senator Reid’s personal agenda for his reelection campaign this fall. According to the White House, it is more likely that Senator Graham walked away because of pressure from conservatives.
According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, energy and climate legislation from the three Senators is still a priority in front of immigration reform if nothing else than because of the simple fact that the Senate has been working on this topic for longer, and losing momentum now would be detrimental to the future success of this legislation.