A big week for Obama on climate change

President Obama faces battles to get climate and healthcare legislation through the Senate - especially if the Republicans win today's Massachusetts by-election

The central plank of the Obama administration’s efforts on climate change has been to try and pass clean energy legislation. The House version of the bill is called ‘Waxman Markey’, the Senate version called ‘Kerry Boxer’. This Act should deliver 0-7 per cent cuts in emissions on 1990 levels by 2020.

Set against Japan’s offer for a 25 per cent cut, Europe’s for a 20 per cent cut and the IPCC’s analysis that industrialised countries need to cut by 25-40 per cent, you can see it’s pretty weak to say the least. But even so, even many progressives like Joe Romm over at climateprogress.org say it is as far as Obama can go given the political landscape.

The Whitehouse’s plan B – being used as a yardstick to try and prod Congress in the right direction – has been to say it will use the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act to make the cuts in greenhouse gases if Congress refuses to pass the Act when it is voted upon in coming months.

That is why attempts by Republican Lisa Murkowski to take steps to block use of EPA powers – possibly as early as this week – are so important. If she gets sufficient support from Congress this would effectively cut Obama off at the knees on climate.

In what appears to be a cut and dry case of corruption, The New York Times reported of the Congresswoman who is leading the attacks on the EPA:

“Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, who was elected to Senate GOP leadership last year and holds a key post on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, received more campaign contributions from the utility industry than any other lawmaker during the 2009-2010 election cycle, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

“Last year, Murkowski received $157,000 from electric utilities, and since 2005, she has received more than $244,000, according to the center’s data.”

In the same article, the NYT add:

“She received $142,000 from the oil and gas industry last year, making her that industry’s No. 3 recipient behind Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and David Vitter (R-La.). Since 2005, oil and gas interests contributed more than $172,000 to her campaign. Murkowski has also received money from mining and pipeline operations.

“Several of her top campaign contributors since 2005 include: Edison Chouest Offshore, Constellation Energy Group Inc., Southern Co., Van Ness Feldman and Exxon Mobil Corp. Van Ness Feldman, a lobbying shop, in 2009 represented many energy clients, including American Electric Power Co. Inc., the National Alliance of Forest Owners, and Cellulosic Biofuel Working.”

The Washington Post also reports Murkowski is working with well known fossil fuel lobbyists to craft the amendment in question, while The Guardian reports Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s comments. The Democrat Senator for Nevada said:

“If this senator succeeds, it could keep Congress from working constructively in a bipartisan manner to pass clean energy legislation this year.”

The clean energy legislation was already looking like it was in trouble before this, with polls indicating the Republicans could be about to take Ted Kennedy’s former seat, as Andrew Sullivan notes:

“What comes next will be a real test for Obama. I suspect serious health insurance reform is over for yet another generation. Even if [Democrat] Coakley wins – and my guess is she’ll lose by a double-digit margin – the [healthcare] bill is dead.

“The most Obama can hope for is a minimalist alternative that simply mandates that insurance companies accept people with pre-existing conditions and are barred from ejecting patients when they feel like it. That’s all he can get now – and even that will be a stretch…

“Ditto any attempt to grapple with climate change. In fact, any legislative moves with this Democratic party and this Republican party are close to hopeless. The Democrats are a clapped out, gut-free lobbyist machine. The Republicans are insane. The system is therefore paralyzed beyond repair.

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