Politics of Climate Legislation

I have not closely followed climate change proposals over the past several years, so I appreciated reading about cap and trade and carbon tax proposals in this week’s readings; both sound like sensible, large-scale ways to move forward with addressing emissions.  But after completing the readings, I was left wondering:  what does it take to put either of these proposals into action?  What and who is holding up action, and why?  I took a quick look around the internet for some background on the politics.

The Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill passed the U.S. House by a vote of 219-212 in 2009; it did not come up for a vote in the Senate.  This was during the narrow window of time that Democrats controlled the Presidency, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate.  According to a 2010 article in the left-leaning American Prospect magazine, three factors account for the bill’s failure in the Senate: the recession, opposition by Senators (especially Republicans wishing to deny the President a victory), and spending by energy interests.

I was also curious for background about the carbon tax in British Columbia.  While my very brief search did not yield insights into the politics of the original passage of the legislation, I gleaned some useful information from the B.C. Ministry of Finance’s 2013 Carbon Tax Review.  It sounds like some of the industries that are most affected by the tax (cement production, petroleum refining, etc.) want it to be repealed, but there doesn’t appear to be large-scale opposition.  Interestingly, the B.C. government did bow to pressure from one business group by creating a grant program to offset carbon tax costs for greenhouses.

What are the prospects for national action in the U.S.?  Considering the last several years of Congressional gridlock, it’s tough to envision any substantive legislation getting enacted, let alone something controversial like climate policy.  Over the years I’ve generally concluded that Congress is broken and I generally prefer to spend my time and energy on state and local issues.  However, since national action makes much more sense in this area, perhaps I should change that attitude.  For a little bit of inspiration, I came across a recent Op-Ed in the Bellingham Herald by a member of “Citizens Climate Lobby” calling for a national carbon tax.  It’s nice to see people out there continuing this fight.


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