During MSNBC’s “Up With Steve Kornacki” on Sunday, I was asked if Tom Steyer’s $100 million campaign to defeat Republican climate science deniers in 2014 would make the climate issue less brutal for Democrats.
My short answer: no.
Because on Monday, it’s a whole new ballgame. President Obama is expected to announce proposed regulations to cap carbon from all existing power plants. (The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn and the New York Times’ Coral Davenport have great pieces today on what’s to come and why it matters.)
Once Obama puts a concrete proposal on the table, we won’t be primarily debating whether or not the science is real (an argument that Team Science has won). We will be debating whether Obama’s regulations are workable, if they will jack up our energy bills and if they will cost us jobs.
And that is a treacherous political fight to wage.
We’ve already seen the worst scenario in Australia, when the ruling Labor Party enacted a carbon tax, and then was ousted by the conservative coalition on a pledge to scrap it.
In other words, you can lose it all on the climate. You can lose the policy. You can lose the politics. You can lose the government.
Yet Obama is taking the risk. While capping carbon emissions is politically dangerous, it’s a planetary necessity. And not only is the clock ticking on the climate, but also on the Obama presidency. He has to formally propose the regulations now if they are to be finalized before his term is over.
For those of us outside the White House committed to protecting the climate, defending these regulations should become our primary objective.
It does not make sense to focus on the single project of Keystone when the cornerstone of a comprehensive climate projection plan is on the line.
Nor will it make sense to second-guess the president over how far he chooses to go with this round of regulations. Yes, there is always value in showing how much more could be done, to help position the main proposal as occupying the middle ground. But that cannot take the place of defending the proposed regulations from the inevitable false attacks.
That is because if Obama’s proposal becomes politically toxic, it won’t be a left-wing populist tide that arises in its wake. It will be a right-wing science-denying Aussie-style backlash taking over the entire government in 2017, dooming the climate for good.