Optimism is growing in Washington that the U.S. Senate could pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation by early next year. A series of developments, including a recent New York Times op-ed by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), show a path to the 60 votes needed in the Senate to overcome a likely filibuster.
In a piece titled “Yes We Can (Pass Climate Change Legislation)” Sens. Kerry and Graham wrote that even political opponents could find common ground in an effort to set a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions. They outlined a framework for reaching consensus in the Senate:
– Aggressive reductions of GHGs through a market-based, cap and trade system.
– Investments in renewable energy sources like wind and solar and incentives for more nuclear power.
– Support for carbon capture and sequestration technology and expanded U.S. oil & gas exploration on and off shore.
– Tariffs on foreign goods that do not meet U.S. environmental standards.
– Protection from sudden increases in energy prices through limits on the cost of emission allowances.
Kerry and Graham summarized:
> We are confident that a legitimate bipartisan effort can put America back in the lead again and can empower our negotiators to sit down at the table in Copenhagen in December and insist that the rest of the world join us in producing a new international agreement on global warming.
Graham’s participation signals that perhaps as many as five other Republicans — Lugar (IN), McCain (AZ), Snowe (ME), Collins (ME), and Murkowski (AK) — may support climate legislation and counteract expected “no” votes from 5 to 6 Senate Democrats.
In addition to the Kerry-Graham op-ed, defections of companies such as PG&E, Exelon, and Apple from the Chamber of Commerce over its head-in-the-sand climate position has revealed to senators that a substantial number of businesses want to see climate legislation passed. EPA’s move to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is also having an effect on the outlook in Washington. Congress would rather have a central role in writing the climate and energy rules than have the job done by a federal agency on its own.
On Oct. 27, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will begin hearings on the climate bill (S. 1399) she has co-authored with Sen. Kerry. This bill matches up in many ways with the Waxman-Markey legislation, which the House of Representatives passed in June.
There’s still a long road ahead to negotiate the details of a bill that could pass the full Senate. Groups like the Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, and American Farm Bureau will be spending tens of millions in advertising dollars to maintain the status quo. However, compared to the gloomy outlook of recent months, the new optimism about climate legislation represents a remarkable turnabout.