When even a disaster can’t shake up a dismal process

WHEN EVEN A DISASTER CAN’T SHAKE UP A DISMAL PROCESS…. There’s supposed to be a pattern. Policymakers consider action on a large-scale idea, but progress remains slow and the public remains unengaged. Then, a relevant disaster strikes; the public says, “Gee, someone really ought to do something”; and the idea gets new life.

It seemed at least possible that we’d see this dynamic play out on energy/climate policy this year. A proposal that’s been stuck in a dysfunctional Senate generated renewed attention in the wake of the BP oil spill disaster. But demand for real change has nevertheless failed to materialize — and this rare opportunity appears likely to slip by.

[F]or the environmental groups trying to break this logjam, it’s hard to imagine a more useful disaster.

The BP oil spill has made something that is usually intangible — the cost of fossil-fuel dependence — into something tangibly awful. Environmental activists have held “Hands Across the Sand” events at gulf beaches to protest offshore drilling, and in the District they spelled out “Freedom From Oil” on the Mall with American flags. They have organized calls to Congress and have held viewing parties to watch films about oil dependence.

“This is probably our last best chance to pass a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill,” said Dan Lashof, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate center. “This is the moment to choose.”

Perhaps, but at this point, the “choice” seems to favor the broken status quo.

The pending energy/climate bill appears to have everything going for it: the proposal would overhaul a broken energy framework, combat global warming, make America more competitive globally, lower the budget deficit, create jobs in a burgeoning industry, and do all of this without significantly raising costs for consumers. And in case the need for a new energy policy wasn’t quite clear enough, the Deepwater Horizon disaster seemingly hit the country in the head with an oil-soaked hammer.

And yet, nothing. Republicans still won’t let the Senate vote on the bill, and the public demand has not changed noticeably.

The environmental, ecological, and economic effects of the worst environmental crisis in American history will be severe. The political effects are largely imperceptible.