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What a botched climate bill can teach us about passing reform today

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Activists occupy the office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
Environmental activists occupy the office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, the speaker-designate for the new Congress, as they try to pressure Democratic support for a sweeping agenda to fight climate change, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018.
J. Scott Applewhite | AP

Thousands of Minnesota youth were expected to walk out of school Friday in an effort to hasten the seemingly glacial pace of climate policy. The first and last major climate bill to pass a house of Congress was the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act. It failed in the Senate despite support in the House and from major U.S. corporations. 

“Much of what we’re seeing play out today, both in terms of discussions about domestic climate policy and what’s happening internationally, one can argue is the aftermath of that failed attempt,” said Kyle Meng, an assistant professor of environmental economics at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Meng and University of Chicago economist Ashwin Rode recently published a post-mortem on the bill in the journal Nature Climate Change. Meng said understanding what went wrong can help chart a path forward for climate policy today.

He said the 2009 bill, which would have created a market in which companies would have to pay to pollute, banked on building political support by using revenue from that market to help companies offset their new costs.

“That prevailing view turned out to be false,” Meng told Climate Cast host Paul Huttner. “I think the thinking today is, how do we use this revenue in a way that’s more broad based than what was considered 10 years ago?” 

“This government revenue can be used to help address some of the economic inequality issues of our time, and I think linking these two (issues) could potentially build greater political support for climate change policy,” he said.

To hear the full conversation, including how states have stepped up in the absence of federal action on climate change and how much lobbyists spent to take down the American Clean Energy and Security Act , hit play on the audio player above.