After last week's vote-a-rama shenanigans in the Senate, I am feeling a renewed sense of hope about our ability to tackle climate change in the current political environment.
"Vote-a-rama" sounds like a gag, but it's a very real procedural process involving Senate budget resolutions. In a nutshell: Senators can't filibuster resolutions on budget reconciliation bills, so after the limited debate period ends, a flurry of amendments are often offered. These are, like the budget resolutions themselves, non-binding, but they're interesting ways to gauge Congressional feelings on a number of topics, climate included.
While both sides can point to tactical victories among the scores of amendments offered last week, one critical result stood out: the Climate Denier Caucus failed to secure 60 votes on any of their most alarming amendments.
Climate deniers are emboldened, but do they have the votes?
What does this mean? Going into this new Congress, we knew the Climate Denier Caucus would be emboldened. And with limitless financial support from the Big Carbon Lobby, they are a formidable political force. We should never take that for granted.
But, combined with the vote from January in which 60 Senators agreed that climate change is real and that humans are contributing to it, the Senate Climate Reality Caucus has demonstrated some political juice of its own.
This is important. This summer, the EPA is expected to release its final rule to set the first national limits on pollution from America's fossil-fuel-fired power plants – the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in the U.S. If climate deniers can't secure the votes needed to block EPA climate action, these rules will go into force and we will take one gigantic step closer toward ending, once and for all, the era of unlimited carbon pollution.
These are hopeful signs. In the short-term, it means there may be enough Senators to prevent the Denier Caucus from winning direct legislative assaults on EPA climate action.
But we cannot let this momentum bloom into complacency. The Denier Caucus has many legislative tactics at their disposal, and with a savvy leader in Senator Mitch McConnell, we should expect many treacherous battles in the coming months.
And, taking the longer view, to turn the corner to climate safety, we not only have to win all the major fights this year – we have to build longer term toward moving these "reality" Senators into "action" Senators. That's the next act in the titanic struggle that has been grinding on for the last quarter century between deniers and realists, one in which neither side has been able to secure clear victory.
But, as we look back at the vote-a-rama week that was, climate realists have reason to be optimistic. We're standing up against the virtually unlimited financial resources of the Big Carbon Lobby – and so far, we're more than holding our own.
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