The climate bill’s prospects

THE CLIMATE BILL’S PROSPECTS…. About a week ago, center-right Dems in the Senate signaled their opposition to considering a cap-and-trade bill this year, which would effectively kill the legislation for the foreseeable future. Is the effort doomed? Maybe not.

To be sure, it’s difficult to know what, if anything is going to work its way through the Senate in 2010. There are plenty of possibilities — Wall Street reform, jobs bill, cap-and-trade, student-loan reform, immigration — but a tighter schedule and a political culture that gets increasingly risk-averse in an election year points to an incomplete to-do list.

This week, however, Bradford Plumer makes the case that getting a climate bill done this year will be “a tough slog,” but it may yet come together.

A few days ago, Ben Geman of The Hill reported that most of the caucus wants to move on a climate bill, and that includes coal-staters like Arlen Specter. True, a few conservative Dems would rather drop the carbon cap and just pass a standalone energy bill — money for renewables, money for the grid and electric vehicles, etc. — but that’s still a minority view. And the White House insists it won’t stand for “slicing and dicing.” They want the full cap.

Granted, just because Democrats are moving ahead doesn’t mean they have the votes. And if Landrieu and Nelson are opposed, they’ll need some Republican support. But optimists should note that Lindsey Graham is still huddling with John Kerry and Joe Lieberman on a “tripartisan” climate bill. Graham keeps getting abused by the South Carolina GOP, but he’s calling for a “meaningful control” on pollution. Also, Susan Collins is co-sponsoring a cap-and-dividend bill…. So that’s at least two Republicans. Not a slam-dunk, but not sheer fantasy, either. (And for those who love tea leaves, two more Republicans, Richard Lugar and Lisa Murkowski, were saying positive things [6] about the Copenhagen accord.) […]

Then there’s the biggest reason climate change isn’t likely to slink away in 2010 — the EPA, remember, is still preparing to regulate carbon-dioxide on its own if Congress doesn’t step in. That’s already prompted a few swing senators, like Mark Pryor, to reconsider their stance on cap-and-trade. The Senate doesn’t have a choice between doing nothing and doing something. It’s a choice between doing something or having the EPA do it for them and making a lot of businesses angry.

We’re talking about a bill that caps emissions, combats global warming, reduces pollution, helps create new jobs in a burgeoning sector, and lowers the federal budget deficit, all at the same time. It enjoys fairly broad support from a majority of Americans in a variety of national polls. And if it doesn’t get done this year, and Democratic majorities shrink even a little, it may be years before lawmakers even think about the issue again.

As Plumer noted, “now or never” sounds overdramatic, but it’s not hyperbolic in this case.