Senators Boxer and Sanders introduce climate bill. Is it DOA? And is that okay?

Following President Obama's call for action on climate change during Tuesday's State of the Union address, we looked at next steps for climate legislation.

As expected, on Thursday Senators Boxer and Sanders introduced their bill, the Climate Protection Act and Sustainable Energy Act (PDF). Think Progress lays out what it would accomplish:

the package puts a price on carbon, which will make polluters pay for the damage they inflict on all of us while encouraging the transition to cleaner fuels. This $20 fee for each ton of carbon dioxide pollution will reduce emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. These bills also bring in more than $1 trillion in new revenue over the next decade.
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This package funds the Weatherization Assistance Program, ARPA-E, the production tax credit and investment tax credit, manufacturing for clean energy technologies, worker training, and other programs that will be critical in transitioning to a clean energy future.

The bills also end taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies and will reduce the debt by $300 billion over ten years.

David Roberts is not impressed:


Philip Bump at Grist was also underwhelmed after hearing from administration officials that Obama had major executive actions planned. He calls it an empty threat and thinks this is a strategic error:

Turning knobs and ratcheting down standards can make a difference in the climate fight, but it can’t win it. If small tweaks are the threat Obama is holding over Republicans — or if he isn’t saying what that threat might be — it’s not likely anyone will be cowed into action. When you hand someone a note reading “Do this or else,” it’s generally recommended that the recipient be afraid of the “or else.” And that there be one.

David notes the longer-term strategy at work of a DOA Senate bill:


I agree. While I share Bump's frustration that we're not hearing of major plans immediately, I'm not surprised when you consider the politics and strategy at play. Sure, Obama could have come out the day after the State of the Union with policy pens blazing and made serious announcements of executive actions, but that is just not how Obama operates. First, it was one day and the administration wanted to let all of the SOTU announcements filter through the media and public and get a read of how things went over with different audiences. But more importantly, politically speaking, whatever executive actions Obama eventually takes on climate will be easier to justify to voters if they occur in the context of Republican obstruction. Obama made this intention clear himself on Tuesday:

But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

So, we'll start with this mild bill from Boxer and Sanders, Congressional Republicans will freak out and at some point when he feels like there's sufficient political cover, Obama will make his move and announce whatever executive actions he is planning, but not telling us about.

On the bright side, 350.org sees it as a "big day" and a sign of growing momentum for action:

From the growing fossil fuel divestment movement that’s now spread to over 250 campuses across the country to this weekend’s massive rally in Washington, DC, the climate movement is beginning to fire on all cylinders and our politicians are taking notice. For the first time in awhile, it really feels like we’re moving, well, #forwardonclimate.

To their credit, 350, the Sierra Club and many other groups are working the outside game and creating public pressure with civil disobedience and Sunday's climate rally in DC. I've written before about how in order for major change to be made, the right political environment needs to be created. Anything could happen, but like the folks at 350, I'm optimistic we're seeing the pieces fall into place for considerable action on the climate crisis. It's certainly about time.

Tags: Barack Obama | Global Climate Change