Bellona president arrives in Washington with high hopes of joining the US climate debate

frontpageingressimage_ingressimage_Fredericcrop_sv-1..jpg Photo: Dag Thorenfeld

He also arrives Monday in the wake of a conference held by the group formed by Virgin brand owner Sir Richard Branson, the British mega-entrepreneur, that urged major private sector investors to get on board with creating a timeline focused road map for reducing carbon emissions and creating new jobs.

While on a five day trip in Washington and New York, Hauge hopes to meet with members of several US departments, including the Energy Department, lawmakers and their staffs, and fellow NGOs engaged in the fight to push real and lasting climate legislation and public and private sector cooperation out of the mud.

But it will be a baptism by fire in the US political process as Hauge arrives at point at which efforts to pass climate and energy legislation this year suffered a perhaps fatal blow Saturday, April 24th when South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), the key Republican supporter of the bill, withdrew his support because of what he said was a “cynical political” decision by Democrats to move immigration legislation first, another hot domestic issue that has kept the Obama Administration’s eyes focussed close to home.

US climate legislation suffers a setback

Graham’s move has forced the other two authors of the bill, Senators John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat and Connecticut’s Independent, Joe Lieberman, to cancel a much anticipated news conference planned for today at which they were to have unveiled draft legislation they had worked on with Graham.

Graham told reporters he was convinced that Democrats have decided to push for an overhaul of immigration law in an effort to mobilize Hispanic voters and accused the Democrats of ignoring the need to mount a focused effort to pass a climate and energy bill.

Graham said that he did not see how the Senate could pass any climate and energy bill this year if Senate Democratic leaders and President Obama pushed for immigration reform.

“The political environment that we needed to have a chance to pass the bill has been completely destroyed” by the push for immigration reform Graham told reporters. “What was hard has become impossible.”

The bipartisan approach that had been the hallmark of the proposed Kerry-Graham-Lieberman appears to have been shattered because of competing priorities. Senator Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrate and Leader of the Senate, comes from a state where immigration reform would get much support from the heavy Hispanic vote. Graham has more or less accused Reid of backing off on climate legislation in order to push immigration reform – something that Reid denies.

Kerry has said that he will continue to press for passage of comprehensive climate legislation.

The cancellation the Monday press conference is a blow to the progress of the legislation this year. The legislation would have capped US greenhouse gas emissions and expanded oil, gas and nuclear power production.

The announcement was scheduled to take place at 11.00am in the Senate’s historic Kennedy Caucus Room, the site of hearings on the sinking of the Titanic, the Vietnam war and Watergate scandal. Big energy companies such as Shell and General Electric were reported to have said they would also attend.

Carbon War Room calls on the private sector to fight climate change

Earlier in Washington DC last week, the “Carbon War Room” held a two day meeting on “Creating Climate Wealth.” Bellona USA participated in the conference, which had a challenging goal – to create a time-bound road map for carbon emissions and new job creation.

Branson, the founder of Carbon War Room opened the meeting arguing that now was the time for venture capitalists, private equity investors and US industrial giants to demonstrate that cutting greenhouse gas emissions can drive long- and short-term profits as well as boost America’s still ailing economy.

If businesses and governments fail to address global warming, Branson said at the meeting, the problems could outstrip the damage done during World Wars I and II. Branson said that cargo shipping, airlines, cities and housing are some of the low hanging fruit.

Branson added that the public’s uncertainty about the science of global warming shouldn’t be a significant factor. He said the goals of the struggle against climate change remained the same: “To get out the message that dwindling resources is a fact of life, that reliance on foreign energy is not a good idea, and, in any event, energy is running short, particularly oil, and we need to come up with other answers.”

With the US climate and energy bill in rough waters, and calls from powerful members of the private sector to deepen efforts toward a more environmentally friendly world, Hauge is likely to observe some rough political terrain while in Washington.

It is hoped that Bellona, as an international organisation, can help influence some of the debate for quick climate action.