Letting a rare opportunity slip away

LETTING A RARE OPPORTUNITY SLIP AWAY…. The vote was far closer than it should have been, but a narrow Senate majority rejected Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) scheme to undercut the EPA. That’s the good news. The bad news, the vote made it increasingly obvious that the Senate doesn’t want to address energy policy this year, an impression reinforced later in the day.

Senate Democratic leaders and chairmen emerged from a meeting on climate change Thursday with no decisions on how or whether to move forward with legislation this summer, with some saying there is little appetite among even the chairmen with jurisdiction over the issue to take on the politically dicey topic this year.

Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said the “dominant concern” in the meeting of six chairmen and five Members of the Senate leadership was whether Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) have 60 votes to beat back an expected filibuster of their bill to regulate greenhouse gases.

“What’s the point of doing anything without 60 votes?” Rockefeller asked. “I think there’s some feeling that you don’t spend time on the floor trying to figure out if you’ve got 60 votes. You have to understand before you go to the floor that you have 60 votes.”

He added there is some worry that the legislation could cause political problems for some vulnerable Members of the Democratic Conference. He said most of the participants at the meeting had concerns about embarking on a wide-ranging climate change debate this year, but he noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did not take a position.

Rockefeller is not exactly a credible voice on the subject — he was one of six Dems who voted for the Murkowski measure — but his comments nevertheless shed light on a larger truth. Some key senators are looking for excuses to let the initiative die, rather than looking for solutions on how to get it done.

Greg Sargent noted last night, “[I]n the wake of possibly the worst environmental calamity in our history, this is, well, freakin’ insane.”

I couldn’t agree more. Look, this need not be complicated. Our existing energy policy is a mess; global warming is getting worse; our international competitors are getting way ahead of us in investing in a next-generation energy framework; and our dependence on oil is undermining the nation’s interests in a wide variety of ways.

There’s a reasonable, modest bill — the American Power Act — on the table, which was crafted by a Democrat, a Republican, and an Independent. It doesn’t go far enough, but it addresses global warming; it reduces our oil dependence; it improves American competitiveness; it creates jobs in a critical industry; and it lowers the budget deficit. The effort enjoys the support of the president, and the leadership of both chambers, and polls show public support for this kind of effort — support that’s growing in the midst of a disastrous oil spill.

And yet, Republicans refuse to even consider acting, and a few too many Democrats are scared to try.

If nothing gets done this year, an opportunity like this one will not emerge again for quite a while. The consequences of failure will be severe.