Can the climate change bill cross the finish line?

CAN THE CLIMATE CHANGE BILL CROSS THE FINISH LINE?…. After months of legislative legwork, arm-twisting, and compromising, the Waxman-Markey energy reform legislation will likely get a vote on the House floor today. The NYT has a good editorial, urging its passage.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act would, for the first time, put a price on carbon emissions. The bill has shortcomings. But we believe that it is an important beginning to the urgent task of averting the worst damage from climate change. Approval would show that the United States is ready to lead and would pressure other countries to follow. Rejection could mean more wasted years and more damage to the planet. […]

The centerpiece of the legislation is a provision that aims to cut America’s production of greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by midcentury — the minimum reductions scientists say are necessary to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

Its mechanism for doing so is a cap-and-trade system that would place a steadily declining ceiling on emissions while allowing emitters to trade permits, or allowances, to give them flexibility in meeting their targets. The point is to raise the cost of older, dirtier fuels while steering investments to cleaner ones.

The two seasoned politicians behind this bill — Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts — have also insisted on provisions that would mandate more efficient buildings, require cleaner energy sources like wind power and provide subsidies for new technologies.

The AP did a nice job putting together a Q&A with frequently asked questions about the bill. Of particular interest was its description of how the reform legislation will affect Americans’ lives: “It fundamentally will change how we use, produce and consume energy, ending the country’s love affair with big gas-guzzling cars and its insatiable appetite for cheap electricity. This bill will put smaller, more efficient cars on the road, swap smokestacks for windmills and solar panels, and transform the appliances you can buy for your home.”

This is not to say, however, that it’s nearly as progressive or as ambitious as it could be. Indeed, some of the chamber’s most liberal Democrats (see Kucinich, Dennis) will oppose the bill for not going far enough. David Roberts added, “The green world is … fluctuating between rage (kill it!), dread (we’re screwed), and resignation (it’s better than nothing).”

And even under optimistic scenarios, nearly everyone seems to agree that Waxman-Markey, if it passes the House, and if the Senate doesn’t screw it up, and if it does what it’s supposed to do, will still only be a first step in the right direction. No one is under any illusions that, if the bill becomes law, policymakers can just clap the dust off their hands and say, “Global warming? Problem solved.”

But first steps still need to be taken, and Waxman-Markey is about the best bill anyone can hope for, all things considered.

So, is this thing going to pass? In a 435-member House, 218 is the minimum necessary for passage. As of late yesterday, Waxman-Markey had 184 “yes” votes, and a whole lot of “maybes,” with a lot of wrangling going on behind the scenes.

Republican leaders think the votes aren’t there for passage; Democrats think it’ll cross the finish line; and President Obama is doing his part to push those on the fence. We’ll know soon enough, but keep in mind — if the Democratic leadership is counting heads and can’t find 218, they’ll probably scrap today’s vote and reschedule.