Why Obama Bailed on the Climate Bill

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Rolling Stone's August issue has a fortuitous feature on the death of the climate bill, clearly crafted before the bill officially died yesterday. The magazine focuses on how and why the Obama administration let climate slip through its fingers. The White House took a "backroom approach," Tom Dickinson writes, entrusting the bill to Harry Reid rather than setting its own agenda and pressuring Congress accordingly. The result was a Senate bill laden with concessions to the energy industry:

In private, big energy firms were offered sweetheart deals to acquiesce to the climate bill, including expanded offshore drilling for oil giants like BP and taxpayer subsidies for coal and nuclear interests that outstripped those for clean energy. "Kerry-Lieberman read like an industry wish list," says a top Senate environmental staffer. "The bill invests heavily in coal and nuclear, but doesn't do a heck of a lot for efficiency and renewables." ...

At first, climate advocates were resigned to the backroom deals, figuring they were necessary to achieve a greater good. "It looked like the only way to pass a bill," says a Senate staffer familiar with the negotiations, "was to make all of these horrendous compromises." But then the strategy backfired. "What that bill did was essentially write nuclear and coal into U.S. energy production for the next 10 to 20 years, instead of phasing them out," says Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. "And it didn't pick up any Republicans whatsoever."

The Kerry-Lieberman bill in fact lost the only Republican support it did have when Lindsey Graham abandoned it due to a political dispute with Reid. But Dickinson has an interesting take on the silver lining of Graham's departure:

Graham, Kerry and Lieberman had been set to officially unveil the details of their climate bill - including its expansion of offshore drilling - at a press conference on April 26th. According to one insider, the senators would have been flanked at the event by BP and other big energy players. "The press conference was canceled at the last minute because Graham pulled out," says the insider. That same week, BP's oil rig in the Gulf had exploded, killing 11 workers and unleashing the biggest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history.  

Read the full story at Rolling Stone.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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