After decades of failed climate bills, it’s worth asking: Why is the U.S. so bad at this?

By Shannon Osaka, Grist

A Democratic president was in the White House. The Democratic Party held a majority of seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But a single senator — a moderate Democrat from West Virginia — blocked the White House’s preferred climate plan.

No, this wasn’t 2021 — the year was 1993: Jurassic Park had just been released, Bill Clinton was president, and atmospheric carbon dioxide was only 357 parts per million (it’s 415 ppm today). Senator Robert Byrd of fossil-fuel laden West Virginia was the chair of the Senate Appropriations committee, and without his support, the Clinton administration couldn’t pass a tax on carbon emissions to address climate change. The White House opted to support an energy tax instead, which passed the House but, faced with substantial opposition and fossil-fuel lobbying, never became law.

The Statue of Liberty stands among smokestacks billowing smoke

It was the first climate policy failure of many. Four years later, Byrd spearheaded a resolution that prevented the U.S. from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Other efforts to pass climate legislation stalled nearly every year after. Indeed, the last three decades of U.S. climate policy look like a graveyard of failed bills: Carbon taxes have died on the Senate floor and been torched by attack ads. Cap-and-trade systems have been endorsed — and then abandoned — by Republicans and Democrats alike.

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