Sudden climate silence in the U.S.: non-verbal communication?

Do a content analysis of current news stories on the U.S. federal budget, and you won’t find many instances of the words “green,” “climate,” “environment,” or “carbon.” Occurrences of those words started subsiding around two weeks ago. The politicians involved are clearly not going out of their way to push an environmental agenda. This includes president Obama. So: what is this non-communication communicating?

Through his long presidential election campaign and well into his term as president, Obama has indicated he has an ambitious environmental agenda. The centerpiece of this was a carbon cap-and-trade scheme. Many senators oppose this, enough that it may be difficult to get 60 votes to pass cap-and-trade legislation. Proposals that attract less than 60 votes are open to filibuster.

So some are speculating that Obama will try to include cap-and-trade measures in the budget legislation and then use the reconciliation process to pass them (as well as health-care measures). Reconciliation requires only a simple majority—fifty-one votes.

Obama’s budget director said that reconciliation is not off the table as the administration tries to enact its agenda.

So what does Obama’s current climate silence tell us about what to expect in the budget which will likely be voted on later this week?

My bet is he won’t push for a cap and trade scheme right at this moment. Rather, his EPA people will work with Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and author of section 526 of the Energy Security and Independence Act which prohibits U.S. federal agencies from buying fuels whose lifecycle emissions are higher than those of conventional petroleum, to craft a scheme to be rolled out later this spring. That has been Waxman’s idea all along, and the president’s budget gambit may have gotten in the way. “The legislative process requires compromise and being open to different alternatives,” Waxman said. Was he talking to the president?

If Waxman ends up driving the cap and trade legislative effort, his bill will certainly require the filibuster-proof 60 votes when it goes to the senate.

Which means that the true climate zealots in the administration may feel that a reconciliation measure on this week’s budget is their best hope to see a federal cap and trade scheme. If they’re lobbying in that direction, they’re doing it quietly.

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