The Fate of Climate Change Legislation: Doubtful

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's  Brian Lehrer ShowDarren Samuelsohn, senior energy and environment reporter for Politico, and Orrin Pilkey, Professor Emeritus of Geology at Duke University, discussed the prospects for environmentalism in the 112th Congress.

Down in the mouth environmentalists are mourning that climate change legislation is doomed for the foreseeable future.

After coming to a lurching stop this spring, and picking up little momentum even after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the bill to reduce greenhouse emissions that advocates were hoping to pass in Obama's first term has essentially fallen off a cliff. Samuelsohn said that the new Congress will certainly be cooler to the idea, and some members will actively try to repeal the limited Environmental Protection Agency regulations that exist now.

There are a number of members who are just dubious about the science, and that's one of the hurdles to passing cap and trade legislation.

Samuelsohn said a number of Congress members being considered as chair of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee in the House are ardent critics of global warming. They just don't believe it is happening. The Chair could potentially be Joe Barton (who famously apologized to BP about the oil spill) or John Shimkus (who said that global warming is not a problem because God promised Noah that man would not destroy the earth).

Pilkey, and much of the scientific community, is staunchly on the other side of the argument. He predicts a five feet rise in sea level by the year 2100, and is advising coastal communities on how to protect themselves from the change, which he says they'll start to feel in forty years.

We should not keep our head in the sand on this. Because of cities like Miami—Miami is in the worst case of all, because Miami is sitting on top of a very porous limestone. Miami for example could put levies around the city to fight the sea level rise but the water would just simply just go right under the city, so the levies would make no difference. Miami has to, in particular, make plans very quickly.

Yet the new Senator of Florida, Marco Rubio, raised doubts about global warming in his campaign. Samuelsohn says because of highly partisan Congressional gridlock, he predicts the responsibility of any emission laws will be left to individual states. He says "the stars were probably as aligned as they were going to be" in Congress this year.

They'll come up with some numbers somehow to show that the emissions are going down, obviously the economic recession actually helped reduce some of the US emissions over the last couple of years too. But to actually pass a big comprehensive bill, I think the time has passed and we'll have to look beyond the presidential election of 2012.

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