A Fresh Perspective on the State of Climate Change Legislation

Let's not give up on a Senate climate change bill

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I attended a Town Hall meeting in a Senate office building on the need for climate change legislation. Accompanying me was our fantastic summer intern, Trevor Hill, who is here in DC sponging up the politics and legislative procedures within our fight to protect the people, places and wildlife on this planet for an entire summer before he returns to Carleton College in Northfield, MN.

After a huge news day on climate change, it is my pleasure to toss this blog post to Trevor, who writes quite compellingly on the range of emotions the day brought and why he is not ready to give up the fight for national action on climate change>:

Today was quite a rollercoaster ride for those of us following the conversation on comprehensive climate change legislation in the nation’s capital.

At 10:30 this morning, I was on Capitol Hill at a Town Hall meeting on clean energy legislation, listening to panelists from across the country and across all walks of life explain the importance of moving away from oil.

A biologist and avid outdoorsman noted that the rivers he fishes in South Dakota are in peril due to climate change. A steelworker from Ohio explained how subsidies for windmills could create thousands of jobs. A solar energy entrepreneur from Louisiana told us how entrepreneurs like him were waiting for a market signal that we are moving beyond oil. A small business representative said that a majority of small business owners are ready and willing to make the jump toward clean energy, even if it means some road bumps along the way.

A retired Lt. General and an Iraq War veteran also spoke. They explained that moving away from foreign oil and toward cleaner sources of energy is not just a step toward mitigating climate change. Rather, it would strengthen our national security by keeping our money out of the hands of governments unfriendly to the United States.

Here are some numbers to chew on: every day we send $1 billion overseas to buy oil and every day $100 million in oil money goes to Iran. Now isn’t reversing that trend something all Americans can get behind?

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) spoke about the importance of comprehensive energy reform. Sen. Kerry, who authored and introduced the American Power Act (which included an economy-wide cap-and-trade proposal), underlined his frustration with the lack of cooperation from his colleagues across the aisle. He spoke of their fear that constituencies will revolt if they support clean energy legislation. Kerry pointed out that the diversity of backgrounds of panelists and audience members showed that Americans are ready to support comprehensive energy legislation. He tempered our optimism, however, noting that energy reform could only proceed if a few Republicans would support it.

At 3:30 pm, I was back at my desk reading the statement from Senators Kerry and Harry Reid, indicating that climate change legislation would be shelved while the Senate moves forward on an energy and oil response bill. I was disappointed but not all that surprised given Kerry’s remarks earlier today. What this could mean is that when the Senate does find the political will to address climate change, it may craft a much smaller, less ambitious, less effective bill than the drafts we’ve seen thus far (already the victims of too much compromise with polluter industries). No one knows when or if Congress will finally pass the climate change legislation that we so desperately need.

And yet, after all this, I remain optimistic that we will get comprehensive climate legislation. It makes too much sense not to get passed. The meeting this morning reinforced my view that moving toward clean energy appeals to a vast swath of the American population. Seeing the Senate fail yet again to pass comprehensive climate change legislation, many of you are probably demoralized and wondering if we will ever move away from oil and coal.

But I remain committed, more than ever, to pushing for that legislation. If the Senate lacked the political will this time, we just need to ratchet up the pressure, so they realize we will not stand for more inaction. It’s more important now than ever that we put pressure on every elected leader in the Senate. Tomorrow, I plan to call my senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, two liberal Democrats who both support comprehensive climate change legislation.  Though they may already stand with me on the issue, we need strong leadership on the path to 60 votes.

The more we push our elected representatives, the more leaders we will have in the fight to pass real, tough, desperately needed climate legislation.


Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.