Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I had an intimate chat today with Sen. John Kerry in Chicago

Well, I guess I should mention there were about 25 other people from the environmental community at the meeting this morning. Kerry had come to talk about what we can do to help pass a good climate bill in Washington -- and prevent a bad one that would strip the EPA of power to regulate greenhouse gases.

The senator, who but for Ohio would have been president, and has become the leader on climate change, was in town to pitch Alexi Giannoulias, Democrat for Senate, as a friend to the environment and a much-needed vote to keep the Dems in charge of at least one chamber on Capitol Hill.

Kerry is clearly passionate about the need for a strong climate law and just as clearly distressed by the mood of the country and the lack of interest in doing something about "pollution," as he calls it. The Republicans branded "cap and trade" as "cap and tax" and destroyed all chances for the only effective way to bring in revenue to help companies and consumers cope with the change, and provide money for R&D to move the country forward.

It's so obvious, he said, that a strong climate bill would have multiple benefits -- creating jobs, preventing more and worse droughts and floods, improving health, preserving national security and reducing dependence on foreign oil. But a carbon tax won't do the job, he said. "It would have to be a big tax to influence behavior, and it has no target (to reduce CO2)." Utilities would likely just "write it into the cost of doing business."

On clean energy jobs, he said, we're falling behind many other countries. "We're on the margins. We're not doing nearly what we could be doing." While China is giving state subsidies to renewable energy "we're not even doing all we legally could," with incentives and grants.

And we're not going to catch up with "a bunch of Neanderthal flat-earthers" in the Congress.

"We're in a very strange place right now, and we've got to break out of it."

He expects an energy bill of some kind, but says it will be greatly watered down to perhaps a renewable portfolio standard and energy efficiency provision. "They'll cherry-pick the easy things," he said, and avoid the hard ones.

He gave a bill by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) to delay for two years the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases a good chance of passing. "I'm more than worried," he said. "It's going to be a very, very tough fight," one he said he would lead.

With so much money on the other side -- made worse by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling (which he called unbelievably dangerous) -- the only way to get decent climate legislation is for the people to "rekindle the grassroots bite" that in the '70s helped pass the Clean Air Act, the establishment of the EPA and so many other environmental steps forward. "In the '70s we did teach-ins, and organized around them." Individual letters and phone calls are needed to counter the pressure on senators from the other side, he said. "Pre-printed cards have far less impact."

In the next two weeks, Kerry urged, environmentalists must work hard to get out the vote for candidates who will be on their side. Giannoulias put in an appearance at the end and the two men embraced -- both very tall, one distinguished-looking with a mop of thick gray hair, the other a fresh-faced hopeful in his 30s. They both said they hoped to serve together in the Senate.