History in the making. Perhaps.

Federal Hall, 26 Wall St., NY, NY

Federal Hall, 26 Wall St., NY, NY

House Bill could help solar & other renewables reach grid parity

Since the first session of congress was convened in New York City’s Federal Hall on March 4, 1789, the United States has seen 110 such gatherings (we are currently into the fourth month of the 111th congress), some more momentous than others.

Historians will disagree about which congresses were the most consequential. It’s a hard call, with so many critical issues decided — or deferred — over the past 220 years.

By repealing the Missouri Compromise in 1854, the 33rd Congress set America on the path to a bloody Civil War.

On the positive side, the 57th-61st Congresses passed a slew of “Progressive” legislation, regulating the nation’s food and drugs, preserving forest and other lands and placing the all-powerful railroads under government supervision.

The Congresses that made the New Deal a reality (73rd-75th) shaped the modern world that will still live in today.

The Waxman-Markey bill is a significant first step at the federal level to allow solar power to reach “grid parity.” Finally, the price of polluting energy sources will approach their true cost.

The 111th Congress

There are good reasons to believe that our current congress may join those of the New Deal and the Progressive Era on future historian’s lists of congresses that shaped America’s policies and fortunes for generations to come.

The 111th has several features in common with the two periods above. In all cases, a single political party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. I agree with the importance of bipartisanship, but, at least sometimes, history appears to argue against it.

Under Teddy Roosevelt, Republicans ran the show during the Progressive era — and our nation is better because of it. Democrats controlled both houses of congress and had a strong leader in FDR during the New Deal.

Today, a single party once again dominates the political landscape with a president who possesses the charisma and dynamism of the two Roosevelts.

Perhaps the most important similarity linking these congresses is that all of them began with the country gripped by a crisis. TR inherited the presidency when a self-professed anarchist assassinated President William McKinley. Decades of corruption and worker exploitation by “Robber Barons” had turned many Americans into cynics and provided revolutionaries with evidence for their claims that business was the enemy. TR believed that he needed to save capitalism from its own excesses, or face the potential for outright rebellion.


FDR, of course, took office as the Great Depression was ravaging every corner of the nation. Foreclosures put masses of people out on the streets, jobs evaporated, America went from lavish wealth to poverty and illness seemingly overnight. In other words: it was a lot like the nation Barack Obama leads today.

Today (Tuesday, May 5), President Obama is scheduled to meet with Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss progress in writing a bill to reduce the nation’s GHG emissions.

At last.

Years have been lost to a sham debate over climate change. Whether or not the earth is warming. And if it is warming, whether or not humans play any role in the change. And if we do, how big a factor is human activity? And if it’s large, is that necessarily bad?

For the skeptics, the issue was never really about science. It was about political ideology.

A 2008 analysis of books written by environmental and climate skeptics found that 92% of the authors were affiliated with conservative think tanks. The journal article concluded that,

skepticism is a tactic of an elite-driven counter-movement designed to combat environmentalism, and that the successful use of this tactic has contributed to the weakening of the US commitment to environmental protection...

Any attempt to pass meaningful federal regulations of GHG emissions will have to overcome several hurdles. Democratic committee members from coal-mining regions don’t want to sign on to any measure that could further depress their already dismal state economies, and, not incidentally, anger many of their biggest donors.

Some Republican House members claim that the threat of global warming is nothing compared to the danger of the energy bill itself.

John Shimkus of Illinois, for example, called the bill, “the largest assault on democracy and freedom in this country that I have ever experience,” and said that the cap-and-trade provisions scared him more than the events of 9/11.

Many in Congress prefer to indulge in histrionics rather than rise to this moment in history. The bill still fighting for its life in a subcommittee is likely to be the most significant piece of legislation to come before this congress — and many more to come.

What are its chances?

In a recent interview about the bill, author/activist Bill McKibben was at his pragmatic best:

“For the moment,” he said, “I am not spending my time being either optimistic or pessimistic. I am just working.”

Good advice. Call or write your Congressperson and let them know you expect them to get to work, too.

Check to see if your Congressperson is on the Subcommitteesept08_capitol

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