As the World Burns: How the Senate and the White House missed their best chance to deal with climate change
October 4, 2010
On April 20, 2010, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joseph Lieberman, along with three aides, visited Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, at the White House. The legislators had spent seven months writing a comprehensive bill that promised to transform the nation’s approach to energy and climate change, and they were planning a press conference in six days to unveil their work.
Kerry, of Massachusetts, Graham, of South Carolina, and Lieberman, of Connecticut, had become known on Capitol Hill as the Three Amigos, for the Steve Martin comedy in which three unemployed actors stumble their way into defending a Mexican village from an armed gang. All had powerful personal motivations to make the initiative work. Kerry, who has been a senator for twenty-five years and has a long record of launching major investigations, had never written a landmark law. Lieberman, an Independent who had endorsed John McCain for President, had deeply irritated his liberal colleagues by helping the Republicans weaken Obama’s health-care bill. Graham, a Republican, had a reputation as a Senate maverick—but not one who actually got things done. This bill offered the chance for all three men to transform their reputations.
The senators had cobbled together an unusual coalition of environmentalists and industries to support a bill that would shift the economy away from carbon consumption and toward environmentally sound sources of energy. They had the support both of the major green groups and of the biggest polluters. No previous climate-change legislation had come so far. Now they needed the full support of the White House.
The senators sat around the conference table in the corner of Emanuel’s office. In addition to the chief of staff, they were joined by David Axelrod, the President’s political adviser, and Carol Browner, the assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. Lieberman introduced his aide, Danielle Rosengarten, to Emanuel.
“Rosengarten working for Lieberman,” Emanuel said. “Shocker!”
Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman knew that Obama’s advisers disagreed about climate-change legislation. Browner was passionate about the issue, but she didn’t have much influence. Axelrod, though influential, was not particularly committed. Emanuel prized victory above all, and he made it clear that, if there weren’t sixty votes to pass the bill in the Senate, the White House would not expend much effort on the matter. The Democrats had fifty-nine members in their caucus, but several would oppose the bill.
“You’ve had all these conversations, you’ve been talking with industry,” Emanuel said. “How many Republicans did you bring on?”
Kerry, the de-facto leader of the triumvirate, assured him that there were five Republicans prepared to vote for the bill. One of them, Lindsey Graham, was sitting at the table. Kerry listed four more: Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown, and George LeMieux. With five Republicans, getting sixty votes would be relatively easy. The Obama White House and the Three Amigos would be known for having passed a bill that would fundamentally change the American economy and slow the emission of gases that are causing the inexorable, and potentially catastrophic, warming of the planet.
The Senate coalition that introduced the bill started to form in early 2009, when Lieberman instructed Rosengarten to work with the office of John McCain, Lieberman’s longtime partner on the issue. As the newest member of Lieberman’s staff, she was in charge of his climate portfolio, and Lieberman made a simple and oft-repeated demand: “Get me in the room.”
Lieberman had worked on climate change since the nineteen-eighties, and in recent years he had introduced three global-warming bills. He also had long been interested in a pollution-control mechanism called cap-and-trade. The government would set an over-all limit on emissions and auction off permission slips that individual polluters could then buy and sell.
By late January, 2009, the details of the Lieberman-McCain bill had been almost entirely worked out, and Lieberman began showing it to other Senate offices in anticipation of a February press conference. The goal was to be the centrist alternative to a separate effort, initiated by Barbara Boxer, a liberal from California and the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
But the negotiations stalled as the bill moved forward. In Arizona, a right-wing radio host and former congressman, J. D. Hayworth, announced that he was considering challenging McCain in the primary. McCain had never faced a serious primary opponent for his Senate seat, and now he was going to have to defend his position on global warming to hard-core conservative voters. The Republican Party had grown increasingly hostile to the science of global warming and to cap-and-trade, associating the latter with a tax on energy and more government regulation. Sponsoring the bill wasn’t going to help McCain defeat an opponent to his right.
By the end of February, McCain was starting to back away from his commitment to Lieberman. At first, he insisted that he and Lieberman announce a set of climate-change “principles” instead of a bill. Then, three days before a scheduled press conference to announce those principles, the two senators had a heated conversation on the Senate floor. Lieberman turned and walked away. “That’s it,” he told an aide. “He can’t do it this year.”
In Barack Obama’s primary-campaign victory speech, in St. Paul, Minnesota, he said that his election would be a historical turning point on two pressing issues: health care and climate change. “We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick,” he said. “When the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” During the campaign, he often argued that climate change was an essential part of a national energy strategy. “Energy we have to deal with today,” Obama said in a debate with McCain. “Health care is priority No. 2…
October 4, 2010
In two earlier NER articles, A Mosque in Murfreesboro Begets Intimidation (June 2010) and Mega Mosque Conflicts in America (August 2010) we introduced the elements of conflicts involving Middle Tennessee mega-Mosque projects. The conflicts are with local communities in Brentwood, Antioch and, most prominently, Murfreesboro. A FoxNews report in August, Plans to Build Massive Islamic Centers Raise Concerns in Tennessee identified why this area and the conflict emerged. It was a product of liberal immigration Gateway Cities policies adopted in the wake of the first Gulf War and Somalia conflicts during the Clinton Administration. That liberal humanitarian immigration policy for refugees contributed significantly to the current mosque conflicts. The Fox report noted:
Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey of 2008 shows the number of non-Christians in Tennessee grew from 1 percent of the population in 1990 to 3 percent in 2008, but the survey does not specify how many of those non-Christians Muslims were. A June article by WKRN.com said the Muslim population in middle Tennessee had tripled in the past 12 years. . . the Islamic Center of Nashville claims on its website that the number of Muslims in Nashville alone is estimated to be around 20,000. But neither mentions any source for those numbers.
The current imbroglio over the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM) expansion complex of 52,000 square feet to be built on a 15.2 acre plot has pitted local opposition to the mosque project against Mosque leaders and elected County officials who granted approval on May 24th. The eruption of community objections at a June 17th hearing has continued unabated since then. The controversy has been punctuated by an alleged arson of construction equipment at the ICM job site in late August, disclosures of prior felony convictions for an ICM spokesperson, and the filing and hearing of a law suit in Chancery Court in Murfreesboro. The issues have included matters of full disclosure, traffic and health issues and concerns about Shariah compliance of Mosque leaders. This chronicle illustrates why Murfreesboro and more than a dozen other mega-mosque projects across America have become controversial and captured national media attention.
In our NER article on “Mega Mosque Conflicts in America”, we noted a ruckus arose over the issuance of an early use permit to bury a deceased member of the ICM on the Veals Road project site. The body was buried in only a leather bag without having been embalmed.
In the waning days of July, a group of 20 concerned citizens sent a letter to Truman Jones, the Sheriff of Rutherford County, to discuss the circumstances behind the conditional use permit for burial of an ICM member authorized by RCPC director Doug Demosi and signed by his assistant Elizabeth Emsley.
A formal letter requesting his assistance was signed by the group July 26th, and issued to the press on July 29th.
The Rutherford County Sheriff’s investigation is focused on whether such a permit could be issued on Demosi’s sole authority without proper documentation or whether it is the responsibility of the County Commissioners to authorize the issuance of the conditional use permit used for the burial.
On August 3rd, the Rutherford County Public Works & Planning Committee heard citizen complaints about health issues arising from the burial at the Veals Road site and unanimously voted to investigate. What is significant is that all seven members of the Public Works Committee are County Commissioners. As Kevin Fisher, community organizer behind the local protests over the ICM expansion plan said following the vote, “Now we should finally get some straight answers surrounding these serious concerns…”