By Alexander Bolton - 02/10/10 02:30 AM EST
Record snowfall has buried Washington — and along with it, buried the chances of passing global warming legislation this year.
Cars are stranded in banks of snow along the streets of the federal capital, and in the corridors of Congress, climate legislation also has been put on ice.
Voters are mostly concerned with jobs and the economy. Global warming is at the bottom of their list. And now, on top of that, the paralyzing snowfalls have made the prospect of winning support for a climate bill this year even less likely.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on Tuesday used the D.C. snowstorm to make a political jab, saying that it provides evidence for global warming skeptics.
“It's going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries “uncle,” the conservative Senator tweeted on Twitter.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said the blizzards that have shut down Congress have made it more difficult to argue that global warming is an imminent danger.
“It makes it more challenging for folks not taking time to review the scientific arguments,” said Bingaman, who as the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has jurisdiction over energy and climate change issues.
“People see the world around them and they extrapolate,” Bingaman said. “I think that it’s hard to see an economy-wide cap-and-trade [proposal] of the type that passed the House could prevail,” he added, though he suggested a more limited alternative could have a better chance.
The seasonal snowfall total for Washington reached 45 inches after nearly two feet of snow dumped on the region over the weekend.
Forecasts predicted another six to 20 inches to fall on Tuesday and Wednesday, putting the city on course to break a 111-year-old record for its snowiest winter. The record snowfall has forced the House to cancel all votes this week. The Senate met Tuesday, but may not meet the rest of the week.
For critics, it was an opportunity to poke fun at the issue’s most prominent advocate.
“Where’s Al Gore when we need him?” quipped Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who burst out laughing when asked about the prospect of passing cap-and-trade legislation Tuesday while the city was still digging out.
Some Senate Democrats dismiss the role snow has played in the debate, but they acknowledge there is growing consensus that global warming legislation will not pass in the 111th Congress.
“I don’t think that the climate change with cap-and-trade is going to pass this year,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who as Budget chairman is putting together Congress’s annual estimate of how much revenue the government will collect next year and in future years.
The effort to pass global climate change legislation has suffered a succession of blows over the past six months.
One of the most damaging setbacks was the emergence last year of hundreds of private e-mail messages sent among American and British climate scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of East Anglia.
The documents, which were hacked from a university computer server, prompted accusations that researchers may have edited the presentation of data to overstate the threat of warming.
In December, a much-heralded international summit on climate change held in Copenhagen, Denmark, failed to produce the international emissions deal that many environmentalists had wanted. International negotiators did not set any targets for reducing emissions but agreed to a framework that could serve as the basis for an enforceable treaty sometime in the future.
This year, Obama administration officials had to defend a landmark 2007 report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that included the unsubstantiated claim that Himalayan glaciers would vanish by 2035.
Senior White House political adviser David Axelrod said: “If a consensus can be reached, we want to support that, but this is clearly an issue that Republicans and Democrats are going to have to do together. It is not something that one party or the other party can do.”
At the start of 2009, Obama hoped to fund a major middle-class tax cut with the income from a cap-and-trade regulatory program that would have charged companies for pollution permits. But hardly anyone in the Senate is counting on new revenue from a cap-and-trade program anytime soon.
“I think that there’s a general understanding that maybe cap-and-trade is dead,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources panel, after Senate Democrats held a retreat last week.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which approved a cap-and-trade proposal last year, acknowledged that there are not yet 60 votes for an energy reform and cap-and-trade proposal.
Boxer said she has not yet given up.
But even the most ardent proponents of curbing greenhouse gas emissions sense their backs are up against the wall.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is leading a bipartisan effort to put together a compromise on energy and climate change legislation, has exhorted allies to act with greater urgency.
“I want you to go out there and start knocking on doors and talking to people and telling people, ‘This has to happen!’” Kerry said at a forum hosted by environmentalists last month.
“You know, if Tea Party folks go out there and get angry because they think their taxes are too high, for God’s sakes, a lot of citizens ought to be angry about the fact that they’re being killed and our planet is being injured by what is happening on a daily basis by the way we provide our power and our fuel and by the old practices we have,” Kerry told his allies.
But many Senate Democrats are not nearly as eager as Kerry even to bring a climate change bill to the floor.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has called moving the bill a “headache.”
Reid promised last month to put a comprehensive energy and climate package on the floor sometime this spring, but lawmakers are growing increasingly skeptical of that plan.
Ben Geman contributed to this report.