The 2008-2010 campaign to pass climate legislation was one of the largest efforts in the history of energy and environmental politics. Yet despite initial legislative success in the House of Representatives in early 2009 and the strong forces arrayed in support of a climate bill, the Senate dropped the issue from consideration in the summer of 2010. Such a high profile defeat might be expected to attract substantial academic attention. However, nearly three years out little analysis has been forthcoming.
This paper addresses that gap in current scholarship, seeking to both inform academic understanding of climate politics and provide insights to practitioners and policymakers. The analysis is structured into two main sections. The first section examines four key barriers that protected the policy status quo: partisan polarization, political geography, energy interests and the recession. Through comparison with the Affordable Care Act and the history of U.S. environmental policymaking, the second section suggests three political forces that might have helped strength the climate campaign: public opinion, grassroots mobilization and presidential leadership. It further suggests that the failures of the climate campaign to pay sufficient attention to opinion and mobilization are symptomatic of broader challenges facing an increasingly professionalized and Washington-based environmental movement.