Foreign Policy Blogs

The Hill

I must say that sometimes the workings of our federal government’s legislative branch, properly known as Congress, aka The Hill, escape me. Certainly there are disparities in the proportional representation in the Senate which complicate things. That Wyoming (pop. 515 thousand) or Vermont (pop. 624 thousand) have the same number of representatives in the Senate as California (pop. 36.5 million) or Texas (pop. 23.5 million) might be seen by some as, well, undemocratic. (Each state also has the same number of representatives as Senate members – exactly two – in the Electoral College, plus, of course, the number of House members.) Gordon Wood reviewed a couple of books on the Constitution a year and a half ago in the “NY Review of Books” – How Democratic Is the Constitution. The answer seems to be that there are serious flaws in the Constitution, not the least of which is the decidedly unproportional representation in the Senate. You can also look at Master of the Senate, the third installment in Robert Caro’s amazing Lyndon Johnson biography, to see how the South controlled the Senate in the 1940’s and 50’s and blocked even the most benign civil rights legislation.

What’s this got to do with climate change? A lot, I fear. For instance, when the two Senators from one state, Michigan, hold one brief only – that of the auto manufacturers – in the case of energy legislation that will effectively, enormously reduce our reliance on oil, they throw up roadblocks. That another Michigan representative, a powerful House committee chair, is given such enormous sway, to block or greatly hinder important legislation, then there’s a fly in the ointment, to say the least. I’m not even going to get into the psychology of the megalomania in play with some of these folks, let alone the sheer narrow-mindedness. I’m just thinking about people given too much sway to represent special interests against the interests of the nation, the citizenry, and the health of the planet that supports us all. The money that simply courses through the system is, of course, another impediment to creating good public policy.

Bob Bingaman and Arlen Specter are introducing a “bipartisan” bill in the Senate to address global warming. It cobbles together bits and pieces of language that’s been kicking around for a few years. It’s weak. It also – and this is where I get really confused – is being introduced before we know what the energy legislation is going to be. (See my posts below on the Congressional action – and inaction – on energy.) Why not get the energy bill in place and then see where you are? There is so much work that still needs to be done to hammer this out.

The Sierra Club called this bill weak. Here’s what the “NY Times” reported on another important environmental group’s reaction: “But David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the new bill was evidence that Congress had gotten the message on global warming. Mr. Doniger said that it probably would not pass this year or next, but that the starting point for legislation was moving steadily in the direction of more assertive regulation of heat-trapping gases.

“”The bills you can’t pass this year are a lot better than the bills you couldn’t pass a year ago,’ Mr. Doniger said.”

On the House side, the energy legislation is still front and center, but as I’ve mentioned here before, the battle between Nancy Pelosi and John Dingell is at the heart of things now. Will Ms Pelosi override the will of Dingell and move the MPG legislation directly to the floor for a vote in the final consideration on the energy bill? Here are two recent articles (from “The Hill” and the “Detroit Free Press” respectively) that give you some good insight into this: Democrats’ climate clash heads to floor and Lawmaker sets up fight in House over fuel rules.

What will be the disposition on some of the other items in play? Renewable portfolio standards? Taxes? Maybe we’ll know more this week.



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change