This morning, the president met with a bipartisan group of 23 key Senate leaders on the state of climate change and energy legislation in the Senate.
The meeting, originally scheduled for last Thursday, was delayed because of the Rolling Stone drama surrounding Gen. Stanley McChrystal last week and the resulting political fallout. To many of us who have watched our national climate and energy policy take a back seat for weeks, months, years, administrations and decades, the delay may have hit a sore spot. Maybe it seemed like the umpteenth delay in a process that is so sorely delayed already.
So when the White House announced that meeting would take place today, many of us watched with bated breath. We know the sands are falling through the hour glass on this opportunity to guarantee a clean-energy future for our nation. We feel the pressure; we see the midterm elections approaching. We see Republican senators who used to be champions of clean energy and climate change legislation (McCain and Graham, anyone?) turn their backs on this issue for political positioning. And we see an oil crisis in the Gulf every day that oh-so-painfully highlights our need for a new, clean energy policy.
All of this indicates the need for even stronger leadership from the Obama Administration and Senate leaders to get us where we need to be as a nation.
The big question going into today’s meeting was: What kind of leadership will Obama demonstrate? How much muscle is he willing to put into this? And can this bipartisan group be herded into producing a strong and forward-looking climate and energy policy?
Politico‘s Darren Samuelsohn reported that Pres. Obama emphasized the need for a policy that puts a price on carbon, but Samuelsohn quoted Sen. John Kerry offering to scale back his bill even further, saying he is willing to compromise even more in his American Power Act, a bill that’s been already garnered plenty of criticism for concessions to polluter industries.
After the meeting, several of the attending senators released their own statements, arguing for a strong clean-energy and climate policy now.
Senator Olympia Snowe’s (R-ME) pitch:
As I have long advocated, working toward energy independence is an imperative for our economic and national security. Which is why today I urged the President to seize control of our own energy destiny and, for the first time, establish clearly defined national timetables for clean energy production, benchmarks for oil consumption reduction, and goals for game-changing research – which no other president has ever done, to ensure we actually attain that independence. Central to this is moving forward with an aggressive energy bill that reorients our nation toward renewable and energy efficiency.
Sen. Mark Begich’s (D-AK) sell:
We need to get off the dime and lead this country to a comprehensive energy plan that will decrease our reliance on foreign oil, protecting our economic and national security. We need to get off the partisan politics of today and do what’s right for the country.
Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-DE) statement:
I thought today’s meeting at the White House with President Obama and several of my Senate colleagues was a positive and productive one. It provided us with an important opportunity to discuss our various visions for a way forward on energy and climate legislation. There were a lot of valuable ideas suggested at this meeting and I think that if we focus on our areas of common agreement we can be successful in passing much needed legislation later this year. At the end of the day it is critical that Congress work with the president to find a way to reduce our dependence on oil, reduce harmful air pollution that is detrimental to our health and our environment, and put Americans back to work building clean energy equipment to sell here and export around the world, equipment that’s stamped ‘Made in the U.S.A.’
So where does this leave our nation?
With the president now applying more pressure on these Senate leaders, hopefully in a better place than we were before. But we need the president to put even more of his energy into passing a strong climate and energy plan through the Senate.
And with Senate leaders from both sides of the aisle selling a new energy policy and talking about green jobs, energy independence, and national security, hopefully this means our nation’s leaders get it and will make something happen soon.
As for us, we need to hold them accountable to these words and make sure this is more than just lip service.