fresh voices from the front lines of change







Few noticed last week, but the Senate’s leading advocate for climate action joined the Senate’s leading advocate for coal on the Senate floor to sound the alarm that climate change is real and requires government action.

Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, who goes to the Senate floor each week it’s in session to demand we protect the climate, and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, who got elected by literally shooting the 2009 “cap-and-trade” climate protection bill in a campaign ad, organized a Senate “colloquy” to discuss where they agree, where they disagree and pledge to visit each other states and discuss further joint action.

The staged appearance didn’t generate much news because they did not have any legislation to offer, and the policy areas in which they indicated agreement only included more loan guarantees for coal plants that can capture their carbon emissions.

But the appearance is notable for two reasons.

1. Manchin is using his platform as the Senator from the second biggest coal producing state to spread the truth that human-created global warming is real. On the floor he said bluntly, “There’s no doubt that 7 billion people have impacted our world’s climate. Those who deny that, I believe, are wrong … we’ve had a impact and we have a responsibility.”

2. He is doing so mere weeks after President Obama’s EPA unveiled its draft rule to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants.

Consider that Manchin could be spending his time demagoguing the climate rule in hopes of thwarting the EPA. He issued a critical statement after the rule was announced. He has expressed support for legislation that would block the rule.

But he also said that he hasn’t done a vote count recently, suggesting that getting the bill through the Senate is not his priority.

Instead, he appears to be spending his time working on building bipartisan support for climate legislation that would help coal have a future in a world that inevitably will cap its carbon emissions.

After President Obama’s second inaugural address, I wrote of the possibility that new climate regulations could change the political calculations of the coal industry and its supporters:

The EPA’s tightening of the vice has been slow so far, to avoid stoking conservative backlash. But all the President did yesterday was tell industry: now that the election is over, the tightening will get faster, until you come back to the negotiating table … The only way they can stop [climate regulations] from happening is to pressure House Republicans, and fossil fuel state Democrats, to pass a law that will cap carbon but cushion the blow on them.

Manchin is the first fossil fuel Dem to budge. In time, there will be more.

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