Geography Is Dividing Democrats Over Energy
President Obama is moving quickly to act on the environmental promises that were a centerpiece of his campaign. But tackling global warming will be far more difficult — and more costly — than the new emissions standards for automobiles he ordered with the stroke of a pen on Monday.
Already, the Congressional Democrats Mr. Obama will need to carry out his mandate are feuding with one another.
By coincidence or design, most of the policy makers on Capitol Hill and in the administration charged with shaping legislation to address global warming come from California or the East Coast, regions that lead the country in environmental regulation and the push for renewable energy sources.
That is a problem, says a group of Democratic lawmakers from the Midwest and Plains States, which are heavily dependent on coal and manufacturing. The lawmakers have banded together to fight legislation they think might further damage their economies.
“There’s a bias in our Congress and government against manufacturing, or at least indifference to us, especially on the coasts,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio. “It’s up to those of us in the Midwest to show how important manufacturing is. If we pass a climate bill the wrong way, it will hurt American jobs and the American economy, as more and more production jobs go to places like China, where it’s cheaper.”
This brown state-green state clash is likely to encumber any effort to set a mandatory ceiling on the carbon dioxide emissions blamed as the biggest contributor to global warming, something Mr. Obama has declared to be one of his highest priorities. Mr. Obama has said he intends to press ahead on such an initiative, despite opposition within his own party in Congress and divisions among some of his advisers over the timing, scope and cost of legislation to curb carbon emissions.
The centrist Democrats who urge a slower-paced approach represent states that are crucial electoral battlegrounds and that stand to lose the most from such regulation. They say they believe that global warming is a serious threat and they will support legislation to address the problem — but not at the expense of their already-strained workers and industries.
These Democrats are concerned, they say, that climate bills will be written by committees in the House and Senate led by two liberal California Democrats, Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Henry A. Waxman, and shaped by Mr. Obama’s team of environmental and energy advisers, virtually all of whom are from California or the East Coast.
For decades, California has led the nation in environmental regulation, including the most sweeping effort to address global warming by imposing mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2012.
Following California’s lead, a group of Northeastern States have created a partnership known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to control carbon emissions.
But California and many East Coast States also differ sharply in the extent to which they depend on coal — a fossil fuel that is a major culprit in producing carbon emissions. California, for example, derived only 20.7 percent of its electricity from coal and 40 percent from hydroelectric power and renewable sources in 2005, while Ohio drew 86 percent of its electricity from coal that year, according to the Department of Energy. Other states of the Great Lakes and Plains are much more like Ohio than California in energy usage.
In the space of a single afternoon this month, Ms. Boxer, Mr. Waxman and the House speaker Nancy Pelosi, another California Democrat, issued statements declaring their intent to work with Mr. Obama to act quickly on comprehensive climate and energy legislation, with a goal of passage this year. Mr. Waxman said he expected to move a climate bill out of his Energy and Commerce Committee by Memorial Day. Ms. Boxer said “the writing is on the wall that legislation to combat global warming is coming soon.”
Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff, endorsed the lawmakers’ timetable and said he believed the goal of passage of a broad climate change bill this year was “realistic,” given the substantial Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
Mr. Obama and leaders in Congress have endorsed a so-called cap-and-trade system in which power plant owners and other polluters could meet limits on heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide by either reducing emissions on their own or buying credits from more efficient producers.
Mr. Obama’s energy and environmental advisers include Lisa P. Jackson, the former head of the New Jersey environmental agency who will head the Environmental Protection Agency; Steven Chu, former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, who is the new secretary of energy; and Nancy Sutley, former deputy mayor of Los Angeles for environmental affairs, the new chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Carol M. Browner, who will occupy the new post of White House coordinator for climate and energy policy, is a former head of the E.P.A., a former director of Florida’s environmental agency and was a senior adviser to former Vice President Al Gore.
The appointees come to office with a mandate from the president to transform the nation’s energy economy and to lead the world in addressing climate change.
Brutal reality, bruised feelings
But their ambitions confront a brutal reality of a weak economy, fading public concern about climate change and serious qualms within their own party about the costs of taking on global warming and who will pay them.
They will also have to deal with bruised feelings among many Democrats over the coup Mr. Waxman mounted last November to wrest the gavel of the Energy and Commerce Committee from its longtime leader, Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan and a longtime champion of the auto industry and other Midwest manufacturers.
“For us, it’s still a big disappointment,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, referring to the unseating of Mr. Dingell, who was pursuing a more moderate climate proposal than those advocated by Ms. Boxer and Mr. Waxman.
“My message over all is that for us to support what needs to be done in addressing global warming we need to demonstrate that, in fact, jobs are created,” Ms. Stabenow said. “It’s not a theoretical argument. We have to come up with a policy that makes sense, that is manageable on the cost end, that creates new technology — and that treats states equitably and addresses regional differences.”
Ms. Stabenow is a leader of the so-called Gang of 10, representing the coal-dependent states in the middle of the country; the group was formed after the failure of a Senate global warming bill pushed by Ms. Boxer last June. The members’ goal is to assure that their concerns are met in any future legislation.
The other original members are Senators Brown of Ohio, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jim Webb of Virginia, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
In the fall, six more Democratic senators joined the group: Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Kent Conrad and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ken Salazar of Colorado.
Mr. Salazar has since left the Senate to become secretary of the interior.
“We will play an important role in the final bill,” Ms. Stabenow said.
Representative Edward J. Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who has been a leader in Congress on environmental matters for three decades, has been assigned by Mr. Waxman to write the House’s version of global warming legislation. Mr. Markey said he was very aware of the concerns of coal-state Democrats.
He noted that Mr. Obama, who comes from Illinois, a coal-dependent state, had traveled to Ohio last week to speak at a factory that produces parts for wind turbines.
“Every single wind turbine takes 26 tons of steel to construct,” Mr. Markey said. “A lot of new jobs will be created if we craft a piece of global warming legislation correctly, and that is our intention.”