Left with no choice, Dems to push ‘narrow’ energy bill

LEFT WITH NO CHOICE, DEMS TO PUSH ‘NARROW’ ENERGY BILL…. The Senate Democratic leadership, looking at the pre-August schedule, has said the chamber would take up an energy bill next week. The question has long been what kind of energy bill it’d be, how comprehensive it’d be, and whether it’d be any good.

We got our answer this afternoon. It was a disheartening one.

After a meeting of Senate Democrats, party leaders on Thursday said they had abandoned hope of passing a comprehensive energy bill this summer and would pursue a more limited measure focused primarily on responding [to] the Gulf oil spill and including some tightening of energy efficiency standards.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a champion of comprehensive climate change legislation called the new goal “admittedly narrow.”

At a news conference, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, blamed Republicans for refusing to cooperate. “We don’t have a single Republican to work with us,” Mr. Reid said.

The “admittedly narrow” legislation won’t be completely useless; it just won’t do what we need it to do. The plan is to have this bill include new oil company regulations, cover spill liability issues, reinvest in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, put some money into manufacturing of natural gas vehicles, and create some jobs through Home Star (the program formally known as Cash for Caulkers).

The list of key provisions that aren’t in this bill isn’t short — any kind of cap-and-trade, renewable energy standards, etc. — but the leadership is convinced it just doesn’t have a choice. “We know where we are,” Reid told reporters. “We don’t have the votes.”

So, is that it? Is the congressional effort to combat global warming dead? Probably.

To be sure, leading Democrats tried to suggest otherwise. Reid told reporters, “This is not the only energy legislation we are going to do.” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who’s shown tremendous leadership on this issue, said he still thinks it’s “possible” to find a Republican willing to do the right thing, and that the narrow bill that will be considered next week “does not replace comprehensive energy legislation.” In fact, Kerry said he spoke to President Obama this afternoon and he told the senator “point blank that he is committed to working in these next days at a more intensive pace together with Carol Browner and other members of the administration to help bring together the ability to find 60 votes for that comprehensive legislation.”

But one can only put on a brave face for so long. With very little time, and unbreakable Republican obstructionism, the odds are probably close to zero. If the Senate were to vote on a comprehensive bill, it’d probably pass — such a bill already passed the House last summer — but the GOP simply will not allow such a vote.

Unless there’s an unexpected breakthrough after August, the future of energy/climate legislation will a) depend on voters expanding the Democrats’ congressional majorities this year, an exceedingly unlikely scenario; b) be put off for several years, at a minimum.