Breath of Clarity

Environmental Policy Analysis Discussion #7: A

The 2010 Obama climate bill did not pass even though a specific strategic approach could have led to a better result.

Firstly, the climate bill did not pass because campaigners did not leverage opportunity to gain bipartisan support. A successful initial step would have been to engage the forces of climate denial and action delay. Instead, Al Gore and environmental leaders declared climate science as settled and did not aim to go into negotiation with those who disagreed (Pooley 2010). Further, adopting a scaled-back approach, one that could have been sold as a modest, incremental step and not a new industrial revolution, would have been strategic (Pooley 2010). Winners of the clean energy economy could have pointed to the new jobs that were already being created by the renewable energy economy and show skeptical Americans precisely how they can succeed (Pooley 2010). Doing so could have even helped sway some Senate Democrat who were centrist, from states that either mined coal or produced much of their electricity from it and feared their people’s response to climate change action legislation (Pooley 2010). Additionally, there were moments environmentalists could have noticed a gateway to clean energy progress by gaining support of two key stakeholders at precise times. For example, in 2007, briefly, Newt Gingrich supported the carbon cap (Pooley 2010). Additionally, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the successor of Arizona Republican John McCain who sponsored the Senate’s first serious climate bills, signaled support for a cap on the power sector (Pooley 2010). While both situations created space for environmentalists to build on, instead the Green Group and its allies were too ambitious with their eyes set on the economy-wide cap (Pooley 2010). The Green Group was not wrong in emphasizing the severity of the climate crisis and the need to reduce emissions quickly; however, the group failed to factor the political context and role of stakeholders into their decision by only having one, restricted legislative goal that disregarded the significant role of utility companies. The utilities perceived they were deserving of all the carbon allowances and demanded relief from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations governing conventional pollutants (Pooley 2010). They were counteracting the environmentalists by also asking for too much. Then, the Green Group made a mistake by not negotiating with the utilities, and instead, just asked them to completely surrender (Pooley 2010). Consequentially, it was difficult for the Green Group to connect with the utilities later on in the process.

Further, President Obama was another key stakeholder who failed to negotiate at important moments with key stakeholders to design specific, logical solutions. For example, there were crucial times when he was focusing on other issues, such as health care, instead of seeing the opportunity to push climate bills forward (Pooley 2010). It halted the momentum gained when Rep. Henry Waxman and Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a climate bill to the House floor (Pooley 2010). Even though it passed in the House, afterwards, when Obama turned his attention elsewhere, the Senate refused to take up the legislation (Pooley 2010). Even after the BP oil spill, he did not make an explicit connection to the climate bill (Pooley 2010). While he could have explained that, by capping carbon the U.S. could speed its transition to clean energy and help break its addiction to fossil fuels, he addressed the problem without showing the American people how they would be able to achieve clean energy (Pooley 2010).


Pooley, Eric. 2010. “In Wreckage of Climate Bill, Some Clues for Moving Forward.” Yale Environment 360. July 29.

Comment by Taylor Joy:


You bring up a great point about the campaign for the bill did not seem to even try to meet in the middle. This caused the other side to just oppose it outright instead of working towards a bill where they could compromise and meet in the middle. After the readings this week, it honestly seems like this may be the biggest point in which the bill and the makers of the bill went wrong. I feel like with how politics function, you cannot just push for a bill without being open to some changes otherwise the other side will not feel part of it and will not be inclined to pass it. I feel that including someone in the process of making something helps them feel a sense of pride and accomplishment and also in this case, would motivate someone to want to work together to make sure the bill passes.

My Response:

Hi Taylor,

Involving both Democrats and Republicans in a bill’s formation is crucial. I found a sourceLinks to an external site. detailing a variety of historical collaborations amongst Democrats and Republicans that led to productive results. The instances range in type of issue, as well. Examples include The Great Compromise in 1787, Truman’s Supreme Court Appointee in 1945, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Food Stamp Program in 1977. Specifically, the Food Stamp Program involved Republican Senator Bob Dole and Democratic Senator George McGovern who joined forces to support a bipartisan compromise that addressed concerns of both sides: control costs by more tightly focusing eligibility requirements to the truly needy while also streamlining the program’s purchase processes. Recent examples include the Tax Deal of 2010 and the Budget Act of 2013. Are there compromises listed that you strongly agree or disagree with?

Comment by Professor Morgan:


Outstanding critique of why the bill did not pass and it shows how a clear legislative strategy is needed to move something this big through Congress. Key legislative leaders and the President need to work together seamlessly to pull this off.

Comment #2:

Original Post by Ashley Staat:

The 2010 climate bill did not pass for a few reasons. Industry lobbying, economic recession, administrative priorities, and political climate were all factors that lead to the bill not being passed.

Industry had worked on climate science denial for over 20 years using PR firms, think tanks, and research groups to spread fear of climate economics using disinformation (Pooley 2010). From January 2009 to June 2010 oil and gas companies along with electric utilities spent $500 million on lobbying. Additionally, National Petrochemical & Refiners Association and the American Petroleum Institute pushed ad campaigns claiming the bill would destroy jobs and cost millions to the economy (Weiss 2010).

America was facing high unemployment rates and trying to recover from recession, I think trying to pass any environmental legislation in that political climate would be extremely difficult. Climate bills often lack the bipartisan support needed to pass both the House and Senate. Despite having control of the Senate and the House, the 60-vote support needed to pass the bill was not there. Several Democrats opposed action to reduce climate action, and persuading four or five Republicans was next to impossible (Weiss 2010; Pooley 2010). NGO environmental groups dug deep on getting an economy-wide cap instead of compromising for just a utility cap bill. The over-ambition partly led to the death of the bill.

Also, Obama chose to focus on healthcare in 2010 rather than climate change and missed the opportunity with the BP oil spill to draw connection to climate legislation (Pooley 2010). Obama also focused on crafting their message around green jobs instead of climate change hoping that the American public would respond better to this message given the country was recovering from recession at the time (Walsh 2010). This may have been a smart move to try and gain Republican votes, but disingenuous by downplaying the real existential threat of climate change. The American public may have not been as supportive because the amount of green jobs the bill would be creating only effects a small percentage of the American workforce. Additionally, shifting to low-carbon energy is viewed as a potential disruption in energy supply and requires investment in renewable technologies, which during a recession and economic uncertainty makes it difficult to gain support (Walsh 2010). This makes me wonder how we will pass successful climate legislation moving forward considering the economic impacts of the pandemic are still somewhat unknown. If Biden is elected, even if Democrats get control of the House and Senate, I think the same issues will present themselves as political polarization seems to be at its peak.


Pooley, Eric. 2010. “In Wreckage of Climate Bill, Some Clues for Moving Forward.” Yale Environment, July 29. to an external site..

Walsh, Bryan. 2010. “Why the Climate Bill Died.” Time, July 26. to an external site..

Weiss, Daniel J. 2010. “Anatomy of a Senate Climate Bill Death.” Center for American Progress, October 12.

My Comment:

Hi Ashley,

Interesting seeing you highlighted economic recession as a reason the 2010 climate bill did not pass.

Also, thanks for providing the monetary amount oil and gas companies, along with electric utilities, spent on lobbying. It is intriguing to consider how the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and the American Petroleum Institute’s lobbying focus functioned in combination with the economic recession to yield the outcome. However, I currently see environmental legislation as a way to lift the nation out of a recession.

In the case the United States (U.S.) decided to comply with the Paris Accord and take purposeful action to mitigate climate change, the expressed job loss in the fossil fuel industry would simply be replaced by a surge in energy efficiency positions. According to the U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), energy efficiency employment is defined as “both the production and installation of energy-saving products and the provision of services that reduce end-use energy consumption” (Environmental and Energy Study Institute 2019). In 2018, according to USEER, over 2.3 million people worked in the United States energy efficiency sector which represents a significant increase of over 124,800 energy efficiency jobs since 2016. Energy efficiency workers are employed in all but seven U.S. counties, as over 300,000 of those people are employed in rural areas (Environmental and Energy Study Institute 2019). It is the energy sector with the highest job growth in the country at 5.37 percent (Environmental and Energy Study Institute 2019). The total employment count climbs even more insofar as additional categories —energy storage, public transit, smart grids/micro grids, and vehicles— are included. It brings the total employment count to over 3 million jobs (Environmental and Energy Study Institute 2019). Technical skills required for jobs in the fossil fuel industry are transferrable to demands from the energy efficiency sector. Further, in order to enhance the transition to renewable energy adoption going forward, it is important to have job acquisition assistance mechanisms in place.


Environmental and Energy Study Institute. 2019. “Fact Sheet- Jobs in Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency, and Resilience (2019)”.

Response by Ashley Staat:


I think that the intense lobbying done by organizations like American Petroleum Institute is the major obstacle to getting energy legislation passed that supports clean energy and renewable energy growth.

Thank you for pointing out that energy policy aimed at energy efficiency and clean energy systems would help create jobs and help us transition away from fossil fuels to reduce carbon emissions. I agree that job acquisition assistance mechanisms are important to have in place as the energy sector shifts to renewable energy. In Illinois, the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) passed in 2016, aimed at helping expand solar programs in Illinois, require electric utilities to get 25% of electric supply from renewable sources by 2025, and it devoted $750 million to programs to help with job training and to help low-income and senior citizens pay utility bills (Citizens Utility Board 2020). I think that if a federal policy were to pass, similar provisions would need to be given for training across the nation for energy sector jobs.

Citizens Utility Board. “What is the Future Energy Jobs Act.” Accessed November 1, 2020.