Progressives mourn the loss of a pet project

Marita Noon Executive Director, Energy Makes America Great
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“This is a very bad day for us.”

“They compromise everything down in advance. Any treaty made will not be passed by this Senate.”

“Worrying on a number of levels…”

“I worry that things are done for show without support.”

With one party in charge of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, these comments sound like they come from out-of-power pessimists. But they don’t. They come from both panelists and attendees at the progressive Netroots Nation 2010 conference in Las Vegas, NV, a caucus of lefty techies that occurred this past weekend and featured breakout sessions on topics such as “Extending Our Reach: New Tools for Online Progressives,” “Satire and Progressive Politics,” and “How Immigration Reform Sustains a Progressive Majority.” Both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid spoke to the 2000 attendees, while the disgraced Van Jones opened the event Friday morning and Al Franken will closed the conference Saturday.

Why so glum progressives?

The quoted remarks represent the overall tone of the conference, but specifically came from the session on Copenhagen to Cancun: Climate Negotiations and the Netroots.

With climate legislation a “top priority” for the White House, there’ve been numerous attempts at passing some form of cap and trade. These attempts at legislation the atmosphere include Waxman-Markey, Kerry-Lieberman, the CLEAR Act (HR 3534)—which raises energy costs and increases reliance on foreign energy sources and that just passed in the House Natural Resources Committee and in the Senate. Meanwhile, Senator Bingaman, Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, has been quietly working behind the scenes to produce a power-company-only carbon cap. Some sort of climate bill has appeared inevitable.

That’s what I thought at least until July 22, 2010, the day I attended a Netroots Nation conference on climate change.

Earlier in the day, I’d received an e-mail from Yahoo News: “Senate Democrats abandon comprehensive energy bill.” Over the next hour, several more versions of the same message arrived, including one with the subject line: “URGENT ACTION NEEDED NOW!” That one stated the following: “We need YOU to take action immediately. We need to have every wind industry employee and ally, as well as their friends and family, call their senators and tell them to urge Senator Reid to include a renewable electricity standard in the bill.” It concluded with, “This may be our last (or best) hope.”

Those of who understand that any climate legislation will substantially increase energy costs may be inclined to view the progressive anxiety over unsuccessful attempts to pass cap and trade legislation as great news. But beware: celebration now would be a bit early in the game. There are other energy-tax measures are on the table that require a vigilant eye.

The anxious rhetoric does, however, represent a shift. While polls repeatedly show that climate change is a low priority, congress has continued to push this legislation on the American people. And the American people have pushed back. It has become overwhelmingly clear that there are not enough votes to pass a climate bill—even a scaled back one.

However, those attending Netroots Nation remain in mourning. Regarding their representatives pushing climate change legislation, a panelist remarked, they are “the least ambitious we could put forward.” A bemoaning audience added “there is no cap on carbon,” “no RPS,” and “no efficiency.”

Panelist Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones asserted, this “doesn’t take away the EPA’s desire to regulate carbon.” She postulated that there will be many “assaults” on the EPA’s efforts but concluded, “If we want to have anything to show for ourselves in the area of carbon dioxide, this is our only option.” She told the group, “Once and for all, we are not going to have a climate bill this year.”

In a time of economic crisis, when most Americans believe that Washington is broken, it’s heartening to see that the system sometimes works. So many people called, wrote and e-mailed their senators that the citizens truly changed the course of action as regards climate change legislation. For a brief time, the government truly was – and is — of the people, for the people, and by the people.

While there is never a good time to intentionally raise the cost of the single item that is central to everything that makes America uniquely American, now, with an economy teetering on the brink of disaster, might be is the worst possible time. Any senator, any congressman, any state legislator, who votes to raise energy costs is simply un-American. He or she doesn’t deserve our vote. And may need a well-timed email, letter or phone call to make them aware of how the public feels about their actions.

Marita Noon is the executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE), a nonprofit, membership-based organization advocating for citizens rights to energy freedom. She can be reached at marita@responsiblenergy.org or www.responsiblenergy.org