Climate bills are energy bills. And energy bills are like chemistry experiments mix the right ingredients in the right proportions at the right time and the experiment succeeds. Get the mixing wrong and the experiment explodes.
April 26 is the day, so we're told, when Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman dubbed "KGL" in DC-speak will don their white lab coats and roll out the biggest energy bill chemistry experiment that Congress has ever seen.
It will be especially delicate. According to Environment & Energy Daily, KGL can count on 41 votes 19 votes short of 60. Even if Scott Brown hadn't upset the Democrats' apple cart in Massachusetts, a straight-line partisan vote a la health care would have been neither possible nor wise for a climate/energy bill.
So, where to get those 19 votes? Who's in play?
First, there are more than a few Democrats representing states where digging and/or burning coal to power heavy industry is an economic mainstay. Those Democrats will cast a cold eye on any bill language that hints that coal's days are numbered. Last week, for example, nine of those Democrats Bayh, Brown of Ohio, Byrd, Casey, Levin, McCaskill, Specter, Stabenow, and Warner sent KGL a letter listing their must-haves: money for retooling necessary to manufacture clean energy equipment, money for carbon capture and storage, money in the form of rebates to energy-intensive heavy industries exposed to overseas competition, a price collar on emissions allowances, plenty of cheap offsets, and "border adjustments," a euphemism for slapping tariffs on products from countries did someone mention China? lacking emissions control comparable to America's.
Then, there are the Democrats who look askance at emissions trading as another play pen for skulkers in Wall Street's shadow banking outfits looking to cut a fat hog at the expense of consumers. Democrats Cantwell and Dorgan, joined by Republican Collins, are in that camp. Cantwell of Washington and Collins of Maine are pushing a cap-and-dividend bill that would tightly restrict emissions allowances trading to the energy producers that would have to buy them. Dorgan of North Dakota says forget the whole cap-and-trade thing and just pass an energy-only bill, like the one the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out last year.
Offshore oil drilling is another potential snafu for rounding up borderline Democrat votes. Gotta have it, with more drilling revenue going to coastal states, says Louisiana's Landrieu. Not anywhere near our beaches, counter New Jersey's Lautenberg and Menendez. Write up a paragraph to please Landrieu and you risk losing the Jersey boys. And vice versa.
Then, there are Graham's fellow Republicans. Leaving aside Inhofe and other not-a-freaking-chance senators in the Al-Gore-made-up-global-warming-to-sell-movie-tickets crowd, there could be some gettable Republican votes. Collins and her Maine seatmate Snowe always make the "A" list of green Republicans. There are others, however. Tennessee's Alexander is kinda sorta willing to talk. Florida short-timer LeMieux is a might-just-might, as is New Hampshire's retiring Gregg. The aforementioned Scott Brown, who knows he'll have to do a lot more than play to the Tea Party crowd in order to hold his seat post-2012, is another maybe.
KGL will have to push their political skills to the wall to make this thing work. And it's not as if the Senate doesn't have other distractions. Financial reform, immigration, and hiring a new Supreme Court justice will rock the chemistry lab while the tripartisan trio is busy mixing ingredients.
Then, if the three are able to scrape up 60 votes, there is the small matter of passing the bill through the House. Last week, Kerry noted on Twitter that he had a good meeting with the House's Waxman and Markey. "Hope their legislative karma rubbed off," he Twittered. Given all the raps against the Waxman-Markey bill, not sure you ought to go there, Big John.
Still, for all the obstacles, KGL is the one chance to pass a climate bill and put a price on carbon this year. Wish them luck and a successful chemistry experiment.
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