Waiting for Congress
By Marcia Cleveland on 03/30/2011 @ 06:19 PM
Today, I am cleaning up my emails, waiting for the Senate to vote on a gaggle of amendments that would restrict EPA’s authority to control greenhouse gases. They are supposed to vote today or tomorrow.
We have been lobbying hard for months against all anti-EPA bills, riders and amendments. This issue has moved so breathtakingly fast I am not sure I even have all the relevant amendments. Yesterday, someone asked me if I had a vote count. I am still tracking down amendments introduced in the last hour; it is impossible to know the views of swing Senators well enough to guess how they will react to these last minute proposals. The Senate in making sausages right now and it is beyond my powers to predict the size, shape and flavor of the resulting product.
I have that end-of-exam-period feeling I remember from college. There is nothing more I can do to affect the outcome. Tired, too tired to have any clear sense of how I did. Uncertain about when I will get a grade and in no hurry to find out what it is. I am suspended in time; no news feels like good news.
“Waiting for Godot” the play by Samuel Becket keeps coming into my head. The title seems to fit my situation right now. I know I have read the play and seen it performed, but I don’t remember too much about it. Wikipedia tells me it has been interpreted as absurdist, existential, an allegory for the cold war and a metaphor for the futility of life. This reminds me of why I decided not to major in English. All I remember is that four Frenchmen are waiting for a fifth, Godot, who never shows. For the characters Godot is the story; the audience knows they are the story.
So Congress, not EPA, is the real story here. There is a strong possibility that the Senate will devise some messy compromise to be adopted by consent so everyone can avoid a recorded vote. That way all the Senators can explain their position as they want the next time they are up for election.
The Congressional drive to curb EPA is frankly a bit of a mystery. Everyone knows that the Clean Air Act has been an astonishing success, delivering economic benefits that far exceed its costs. Polls consistently show that more than 60% of their constituents want them to leave EPA alone to do its job. Many of my colleagues would say that Congress is responding to the influence if big energy money, but that does not quite compute. There is plenty of evidence of splits among the big energy companies. Some of the companies that stand to benefit if EPA shuts old coal plants have publicly supported EPA and are being pressured to stay on the sidelines by their coal-fired brethren. If Congress is not responding to the will of the majority and big energy money is canceling itself out, what explains their anti-EPA zeal?
Congress must be driven fear of the havoc a tiny, angry minority can wreak. They are living in dread of a TEA Party challenge that ends their political careers. Periods like this, when a strident fear-mongering minority has held disproportionate power, have happened before in our history. The McCarthy era was such a time although much worse. There is only one cure: concern for the public good backed by courage.
This EPA vote is historic. It is the first time in 40 years that there has been a serious effort to go backwards on protecting the planet from human pollution. In a blog yesterday, David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council likened this vote to the Voting Rights Act of 1964. Almost 50 years after that vote it is difficult to imagine that anyone thought a vote for racial discrimination was a reasonable choice. Fifty years from now will anyone understand those who voted to do nothing about climate change? Meanwhile, I am checking up on the sausages and guessing they will be tea flavored.