One French Hand Clapping for Waxman-Markey

. . . er, yes, I know that Michael Jackson died, I’m just trying to see whether I can hold off having to write about that. Though if I get any more e-mail requests, I guess my hand will be forced.

For now, though, I’d rather discuss the Clean Energy and Security Act, otherwise known as the Waxman-Markey bill after its leading Congressional sponsors, that was passed in the US House of Representatives yesterday by a narrow 219-212 vote. This is the legislation that would move the US towards a “cap and trade” approach to regulating greenhouse-gas emissions. One key to understanding the push for such a law is clearly the issue’s whole international aspect: the rest of the world rather expects the United States to embark on something of this sort, whether it is Europe that already is further ahead in its environmental legislation or it is China and India who are definitely behind, but looking on to see whether there will ultimately be American inaction that can justify their own.

That’s why it is good to see an article in the authoritative French newspaper Le Monde such as the one just written by Corine Lesnes. Obama launches his green revolution, she proclaims in the piece’s very title, which features at the top an oddly hagiographic photo of Obama standing in front of what seems to be an early-American wilderness mural, perhaps during a visit to the Department of the Interior.

In fact, both that title and illustration, in their implicit optimism, are somewhat at odds with the general tenor of the full article, which rather emphasizes the tenuousness of the legislative victory – as in that 219-212 vote – and the uncertain prospects going forward. Many quotes are provided from the bill’s opponents, which include not only Republicans (e.g. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma: “This legislation will destroy our way of life!”) but also Democrats (including black Congressman Artur Davis from Alabama – Lesnes misspells his first name, which happens to be the very first word in the body of her piece – who even attended Harvard Law School with Obama: “The system of a market for CO2 emissions penalises industrial regions. Alabama will lose jobs.”). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in order to make sure the bill could be brought up for a vote before everyone left for the 4th of July recess, had to take what sounds like the extreme measure of limiting debate to only one allotted minute per speaker. Naturally, that sort of thing is impossible under Senate procedures, and indeed there is by no means any guarantee that the bill will pass there as well to actually become law.

But Lesnes is also willing to look on the bright side. As she points out, anything like this was quite impossible only a year ago, under the Bush Administration, with its well-known attitudes towards climate change generally, and was even hard to imagine just six months ago, when according to Lesnes few Americans had yet heard of the concept of “cap and trade.” And again, the House passage did save the president from considerable embarrassment. For one thing, you might recall that German Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel happened to be in town visiting the President; yes, she was flying back to Germany by the time the vote was actually taken, but still, it’s easy to imagine how talks with President Obama would have been rather strained if it had been apparent beforehand that Waxman-Markey was likely to go down to defeat. Plus, remember that Obama is once more scheduled to head the other way in about two weeks’ time to meet Merkel and the rest of the G8 heads of government in Italy, not to mention Pope Benedict XVI as well, who presumably is interested in what kind of steward of God’s earthly creation the American president intends his country and its economy to be. It’s clearly better to travel off to these encounters with that “cap and trade” bill still alive in the legislative process – and that Congressional recess happening next week probably means that the US Senate will not have the opportunity (at least quite yet) to destroy the happy fa├žade Obama will be able to present that “cap and trade” is well on its way in the USA.

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