Congress is all but abandoning President Barack Obama's goal of producing fully one-quarter of the nation's electricity from renewable sources - wind, solar and the like - by 2025, though a push for at least some increase is making headway.
Both the House and Senate are considering legislation that would establish the first national requirement for electric utilities to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy - from wind turbines and solar cells to biomass and geothermal sources.
To gain wider congressional support, the proposals have been whittled back. They now pale in comparison to what Obama repeatedly has maintained is feasible and necessary to shift the nation away from coal and other fossil fuels and to clean energy sources. This shift, he argues, is needed to combat climate change and make the nation more energy independent.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected on Thursday to approve energy measures that call for 15 percent of the country's power to come from renewable sources by 2021. A huge climate bill, likely to be considered in the coming weeks in the House, would require 20 percent renewable energy use by 2020.
Without a hard line from progressives, the momentum of the negotiations is entirely toward weakening the legislation. Further, given that this is the main Democratic agenda item that requires 60 votes in the Senate, as with the health care fight it also holds the promise of serving as a template for pretty much every other main Democratic agenda item from 2010-2012. If we can't pass meaningful progressive legislation on climate change, then we aren't going to pass meaningful progressive legislation on pretty much anything else that requires 60 votes. The model will have been set.
As such, if we want not only good legislation on a main agenda item for 2009, but also if we want meaningful progressive legislation on anything after 2009, we must engage the climate change fight with equal vigor to the health care fight. In all likelihood, this means repeating the health care model by finding some hard lines on the climate change bill that Congress must not be allowed to cross.
What's more, we need to do this fast. Climate change legislation is already well under way, having passed the relevant House committee a couple weeks ago. As the above report indicates, a much weaker bill is about to pass through the relevant Senate committee. If we are going to improve these bills, it must be done through amendments during floor debates, and through the conference committee process.
So, let's have a quick brainstorm session. What hard lines can we draw on climate change legislation? How can we get Progressives in the house and Senate to adopt those hard lines? And then, given that the debate is already under way, is it possible to, if necessary, retroactively enforce these lines in some fashion?
I honestly do not know what are chances are in this debate. However, given what is at stake, I do know that we have to at least try. Any thoughts in the comments are appreciated.