As you can see in today’s Progressive Breakfast, interpretations of the President’s speech ranged widely. Carbon cap is dead. Or alive. Serious push for other clean energy standards and investments. Or desire to take anything they can get. Pragmatic. Or cop-out.
The fact that the speech can be interpreted so many different ways is part of the problem. There was no clear rallying cry for the public to use to press the Senate into action.
And environmental issues are especially vulnerable to counterproductive in-fighting over which super-special idea is the only true silver bullet solution. Not having a clear focal point makes exercising grassroots pressure much harder.
But what was clear is that the President does want to pass some sort of energy reform this year. And if we want to make it as strong as possible, throwing up our hands over the mixed messages from White House doesn’t accomplish anything.
It would not be wise to allow the Senate to work its will without grassroots pressure.
The President understandably gave a nod to GOP Sen. Lugar’s energy-efficiency proposals in his speech, because he’s the only Republican with any kind of compromise proposal on the table, a few Senate Republicans will be needed to get to 60 votes, and 60 votes will be needed.
But letting Lugar dictate the final terms would be terrible. His energy-efficiency proposal appears good, but according to The New Republic’s Brad Plumber, Lugar’s overall effort to cut carbon emissions is undermined by other loopholes regarding renewable energy standards and coal plants. Plumer argues the Lugar bill could actually lead to less renewable energy production than if we did nothing.
Thankfully, the President did not cite Lugar by name or embrace his entire bill, so Lugar does not yet hold all the cards. But without strong grassroots pressure, 60 votes will coalesce around the least amount of reform possible, precisely where Lugar stands today.
But where should grassroots pressure go? Carbon cap? Renewable energy standards? R&D investment? Energy-efficiency?
All are important. But as far as what to tell your Senator when you pick up the phone or write a letter, at this stage, it doesn’t matter.
All that matters for now is that Obama’s speech is followed by a strong grassroots response for bold action on clean energy. If we can make it known inside the Senate that the public is demanding real change on energy, we will start the legislative process on a positive note.
Sure, there will be weak proposals and sneaky loopholes to stamp out down the line. Worry about that later.