Climate bill faces long, but not insurmountable, odds

CLIMATE BILL FACES LONG, BUT NOT INSURMOUNTABLE, ODDS…. The Washington Post‘s front-page piece on the climate bill in the Senate makes the future appear bleak.

The climate-change bill that has been moving slowly through the Senate will face a stark political reality when it emerges for committee debate on Tuesday: With Democrats deeply divided on the issue, unless some Republican lawmakers risk the backlash for signing on to the legislation, there is almost no hope for passage.

Like the measure adopted by the House, the legislation favors a cap-and-trade system that would issue permits for greenhouse gas emissions, gradually lower the amount of emissions allowed, and let companies buy and sell permits to meet their needs — all without adding to the federal deficit, according to projections. But key Republicans are making their opposition clear, even as Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) has enlisted Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) as his most visible GOP ally in gathering support for the bill.

Reading that there is “almost no hope for passage” is discouraging, of course, but it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t too terribly long ago that reports said the same thing about health care reform. Legislative battles can often take some unpredictable twists and turns.

More to the point, the Post‘s report notes that proponents of the legislation will need some Republicans to break ranks. That’s true, but it’s also not implausible. Eight House GOP lawmakers voted for the energy reform measure in July, and in the Senate, advocates have already brought one high-profile conservative Republican — South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham — on board.

Proponents are now eyeing “at least half a dozen” other Republicans who may be open to persuasion on the issue. And by “persuasion,” I mean, “able to be bought off with enticements they want.”

For several GOP lawmakers, the key on energy policy is building new nuclear power plants. So, Dems are willing to make a deal — they’ll back approval for expedited construction of U.S. nuclear reactors in exchange for support for the rest of the bill. (Dems are also sweetening the pot with expanding drilling.) Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope calls the horse trading “the old formula for bipartisanship.”

What’s next? A new round of conservative obstructionism is slowing things down, but the WaPo reported, “Graham and Kerry are set to meet Wednesday with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, as well as with Obama’s top climate adviser, Carol M. Browner, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to discuss a possible compromise.”

That sounds like a productive step. The larger effort is still an uphill climb, but some of the pieces are in place for progress.