Brown's Win and the Climate Vote

Brown's Win and the Climate Vote
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As we all drink our morning coffee and digest what this latest change-up means for the Senate, let me be the first to say - I continue to be hopeful that the Senate will take action on climate change.

The signs of momentum for a clean energy and climate bill outweigh any signs that come from the Massachusetts special election.

Take, for example, that this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reiterated that he wants to pass the bill this spring, and that the bill has the tri-partisan support of Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman.

In a little more than 6 weeks, 1221 businesses have called for strong action on climate via American Businesses for Clean Energy.

Not to mention the fact that President Obama spent 15 hours at the negotiating table in Copenhagen drafting an international climate accord with his own pen because he believes so deeply in the need to confront climate change. Top it off with the fact that Americans are frustrated with the continuing high jobless rate. The clean energy and climate bill, meanwhile, will create nearly 2 million additional jobs.

That's the national picture. Now let's look at what Brown himself might do on climate. In fact, like his constituents, Brown has said he believes we need to address climate change.

While it's true that Martha Coakley was a more reliable vote in favor of a bill and it's true that Brown has ties to the conservative tea party movement, I am not counting Brown out.

Most of Brown's tea party supporters are out-of-staters, eager to push their agenda in whatever campaign they can. But now that the election is over, those folks will return home, and Brown will be left with the people who elected him -- Massachusetts citizens who have said in poll after poll that they want clean energy and climate legislation to pass.

Brown has a choice to make. He can choose to serve the interests of those tea baggers who live elsewhere or he can choose to represent the people of Massachusetts. I hope he decides to follow the example of fellow Northeastern Senators Snowe and Collins, leaders who walk the tightrope between the conservative Republican leadership and their environmentally-minded constituents.

He opposes, however, most of the mechanisms currently on the table for accomplishing that goal. This seems to be the new GOP equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. (Senator Murkowski is especially good at playing both sides of this game). But it's significant that these Republicans want to position themselves as proponents of fighting climate change - it means they and all their well-heeled advisors have concluded that time is on our side. They don't think they can just deny that the problem exists or claim that nothing needs to be done about it. We have to capitalize on their sense that the future lies with a greener economy, even if they seem to be doing their best to stave off that future for the time being.

I hope Brown doesn't use his fence-sitting to justify further delay. For if there was one thing the Massachusetts election showed is that voters want change, and they want it now.

People have grown impatient with their leaders. They don't give them much time to realize their campaign promises anymore. President Obama took office just one year ago, but people have already moved on to the next person screaming for change. Brown knows this: he adopted Obama's rhetoric from 2008 and ran as the change candidate.

It's true that democracy can be painfully slow. The average bill takes Congress several sessions to pass and the major bills can take decades.

But several issues are ripe for action. They have had more than enough time to mature, and voters are begging for resolution. Americans want lawmakers to ensure the fat cats on Wall Street become better neighbors, to bring health care to those less fortunate, and to create jobs and economic opportunity by tapping into the global clean energy marketplace.

This is the kind of change voters want to see, and Brown has a chance to be part of the action. If, on his first day in office, he decides not to repeat the Mantra of No but instead to actually get some work done, he could be a game-changer on climate.

Our door is open, Senator-elect Brown, if that is the path you choose. Help us draft a bill that will protect the environment and get the economy back on track.

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