Posted by: Martin Fox | April 26, 2010

Senate Climate Bill Update

The legislative maneuvering continues. Legislation of this impact and importance is going to take time, focus, and a lot of hard work from both sides of the isle.

Peace out – Martin Fox with the Center for Global Leadership. Learn more about our work at www.LeadGlobally.org.

One Earth, One People, One Global Community

Why the GOP’s Graham Put the Kibosh on a Climate Bill
By BRYAN WALSH
Mon Apr 26, 5:20 am ET

Forging congressional legislation to effectively tackle climate change was never going to be easy – but it just became a lot harder. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who had been working on a climate bill along with Democrat John Kerry and independent Joseph Lieberman, on Saturday announced that he would suspend his involvement in climate negotiations, blaming what he termed the Democrats’ “cynical ploy” of focusing first on immigration reform. “Unless their plan substantially changes this weekend, I will be unable to move forward on energy independence legislation at this time,” wrote Graham in a letter to business, environmental and military leaders. “I will not allow our hard work to be rolled out in a manner that has no chance of success.”

Graham’s change of heart scuttled a planned announcement of the climate bill on April 26, when the three senators had been set to share the stage with executives from energy and oil companies to introduce the legislation. Kerry and Lieberman said that they would continue working towards climate legislation, and White House climate czar Carol Browner said in a statement that the Administration would support “both comprehensive energy independence and immigration reform legislation.” But losing Graham – one of the few Republicans in Congress who still seems to believe in tackling global warming through curbing carbon emissions – is a body blow for climate and energy legislation that was already facing a vertical battle in Congress. (See how the U.S. can win the war against global warming.)

Graham, Kerry and Lieberman had been working on a climate and energy bill in the Senate for nearly half a year. (A climate bill sponsored by Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey already passed nearly a year ago in the House.) The Senate bill was always going to be controversial: While the House legislation had been built around capping and trading carbon emissions, Graham had declared the cap-and-trade principle “dead,” and the Senate bill was going to focus more narrowly on the electricity sector, rather than the entire economy. That may have allowed Kerry, Graham and Lieberman to enlist serious industry support for their bill, including the trade group for private electrical utilities and many of the major oil companies. And not coincidentally, a number of more liberal environmental groups, such as Friends of the Earth, were already pronouncing the prospective Senate bill far too weak to deal with climate change.

That might be a moot point now. Late last week, partially in response to the passage of a state law in Arizona that gave police unprecedented latitude to crack down on illegal immigration, the Democratic leadership began considering moving immigration reform ahead of energy and climate legislation in their congressional priorities. Given how split the country remains on immigration and given the fact that little advance work on the issue has been done in Congress as yet, Graham told reporters on April 22 that moving ahead on the issue “destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate.”

Though the White House said it was committed to moving forward on both fronts, Democratic Senators Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer are both facing tough reelection contests, and energizing Hispanic voters by moving on immigration reform – even if it has little chance of becoming law – could help both save their seats in November. By April 24 Graham, who is also one of the few Republicans who might cooperate with Democrats on immigration reform, apparently had had enough.

Still, the timing of immigration reform may not be the only reason Graham might be retreating from the legislation he’d been crafting with Lieberman and Kerry. The South Carolina Republican has come under intense criticism from his own party over his participation in climate and energy legislation, which has become increasingly unpopular with conservatives – a March Gallup poll found that the percentage of conservatives who believe climate change was real and actually occurring had dipped from 50% in 2008 to 30% this year, while liberals and moderates had shown little change. (See pictures from our fragile planet.)

Standing up for even a climate-and-energy bill as industry-friendly as the prospective Senate legislation had become a lonely place for Graham. “There has been enormous back-pressure against the kind of bipartisan cooperation Senator Graham has engaged in,” said White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers on Face the Nation this morning. “That perhaps has made this a more complex situation, more difficult for him than it would otherwise be.” Like Florida governor Charlie Crist, struggling badly in his Republican primary race for a senate seat, Graham is part of an increasingly endangered species – a moderate Republican.

But Graham may not have been the only one having second thoughts – climate and energy legislation never seemed to have the full-throated backing of the White House or the Democratic leadership. The political upside seemed limited at best, with opponents of legislation successfully characterizing “cap and trade” as an energy-inflationary economy killer. (The fact that independent analysts at the Congressional Budget Office reported that climate bills would actually reduce the budget deficit over time seemed to make little difference.) Even before Graham’s decision, it was proving difficult to earn the support of conservative Democrats representing industrial and agricultural states in the South and Midwest; bipartisan support seemed nearly impossible, especially if Graham is gone for good.

Mainstream environmentalists tried to stay hopeful in the wake of Graham’s retreat. “This is a disappointment, not a defeat,” said David Hawkins, head of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s climate center. And thousands of supporters still rallied on the National Mall Sunday to call for a climate bill. “Our Congress still isn’t acting,” said Dennis Hayes, who helped organize the first Earth Day more than 40 years ago. “We’re here to demand action.” With time running out on this Congress – and with Democrats almost surely set to lose seats after the November midterms – a climate bill that isn’t now could be never.


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