At the December 10 press conference rolling out a bipartisan - or, is it tripartisan? - framework for climate legislation, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, set a high bar for environmental achievement.
"Why can't America have the cleanest air and the purest water?" Graham asked. "Why would any Republican or Democrat want that not to be so?"
In a darkened bedroom, inside the last redoubt of true patriots, a tea party activist is tossing and turning, worrying that some conservatives, somewhere, agree with Lindsey Graham.
What's immediately important, however, is whether Graham can sign up a few more of his GOP colleagues to support a bill to limit carbon pollution. Graham, joined by Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry and Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman, rolled out what they hope will be a launch pad that will lift climate change legislation past the 60-vote threshold necessary for passage. If that occurs sometime in the spring, the next step would be reconciling what are likely to be considerable differences between the Senate legislation and the the bill that the House passed June 26. But that's a story for another day.
Climate legislation is mostly energy legislation. And every energy bill that Congress has ever considered has been like a delicate chemistry experiment -- needing the right ingredients in the rights amounts at the right time in order to succeed. Otherwise, it blows up.
The tripartisan trio has put on lab coats and undertaken the most delicate chemistry experiment the Senate has faced in a long time. Adding ingredients to please one group of colleagues risks displeasing another group.
Add nuclear energy sweeteners and state-option offshore oil drilling to bring in more heartland conservatives, and you risk alienating coastal liberals. Put in carbon "border adjustments" to make the heavy industry unions happy, and you take a chance of honking off free traders and businesses that depend on imported supplies. Businesses want regulatory certainty. Consumers fear higher energy prices. I have issues. You have issues. We all have issues.
We won't know till the leaves are budding next year whether the tripartisan trio can deliver better climate stewardship through legislative chemistry. The framework that they released is general, with the details to be filled in through negotiations after the turn of the year. Still, as the White House opined, the release of the framework is a "positive development." The tripartisan trio has built the arena; now they have to coax their 57 colleagues onto the playing field.
And now, for something very different. Another bipartisan climate game has kicked off. Two senators from in the nation's upper left and right corners introduced "cap-and-dividend" legislation on December 11. Its virtue is simplicity, coming in at fewer than 40 pages, versus the 1,400-plus in the House-passed goliath.
Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell and Maine Republican Susan Collins whipped up a bill that would put a price on carbon by requiring the first producers of fossil fuels - coal mines, for example - to buy carbon "shares." The buyers could trade shares, but no one else - think Wall Street fiends - would be allowed into the market. Three-fourths of the sale proceeds would fund tax-free dividends for every legal U.S. resident. The remainder would be deposited into a fund for research, energy efficiency, transitional assistance for communities in energy-intensive regions, and programs to reduce other greenhouse gases.
The bill's introduction drew a positive reaction from a key Republican, Alaska's Lisa Murkowksi, the top elephant on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She called the Cantwell-Collins legislation "intellectually honest."
So, the sausage machine grinds on. A bipartisan climate bill just might emerge from the ferment. Keep your fingers crossed.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.