Ed Markey
Martha Coakley
Could Ed Markey be the Senate’s newest climate hawk?

The Senate will lose an advocate for climate action when John Kerry becomes secretary of state (assuming he gets confirmed, which seems pretty darn safe to assume). But it could gain another senator who’s just as climate-hawkish if Ed Markey wins the race for Kerry’s soon-to-be-vacated seat.

Rep. Markey (D-Mass.) announced last week that he intends to run in the special election next spring or summer to fill Kerry’s spot. He’s not the only Democrat who’s talking about a run, but he’s the most senior and high-profile, so the establishment swiftly got behind him, hoping to avert a primary fight.

Kerry didn’t outright endorse Markey, but he praised him effusively, calling him “the House’s leading, ardent, and thoughtful protector of the environment.” Kerry continued: “He’s passionate about the issues that Ted Kennedy and I worked on as a team for decades, whether it’s health care or the environment and energy or education.”

Markey is arguably the most passionate, outspoken climate advocate in the House. You might remember him from such legislation as the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill, which was passed by the House in 2009 and then died a slow and painful death in the Senate. Markey was the one and only chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming during its existence from 2007 to 2010. Though Republicans killed the committee when they took control of the House two years ago, that hasn’t stopped Markey from pushing energy and climate issues into the spotlight — and writing about his efforts on Grist.

In announcing his candidacy for the Senate, Markey made clear that he plans to keep focusing on energy: “I will not sit back and allow oil and coal industry lobbyists to thwart our clean energy future,” he said. Scott Nathan, chair of the League of Conservation Voters, told The Boston Globe that he was thrilled to back Markey, describing the congressmember as “a champion fighting for the clean-energy economy.”

Now the big, looming question is whether Scott Brown will run for Kerry’s spot from the Republican side. Brown lost his Senate seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in November after a bruising campaign. The two clashed over climate change and energy issues, and environmental groups came out in full force against Brown and for Warren. Here’s what I wrote about Brown during that race:

Scott Brown is one of the more centrist Republicans in the Senate, yet he’s getting a lot of hate from the green community. Brown has bucked his party on wind power, calling for extension of a key wind tax credit that Mitt Romney opposes. But he’s buddied up with Big Oil and the Koch brothers (he’s gotten about $333,000 in campaign cash from the oil and gas industry). He voted to push through the Keystone XL pipeline and maintain oil-industry subsidies (even while claiming said subsidies don’t exist). And he’s been wishy-washy on climate science and has opposed EPA’s efforts to regulate CO2.

Brown has been mum on his intentions so far, but many pols and pundits think he’s likely to run. If he does, he’ll be a serious contender. In a mid-December poll of registered Massachusetts voters, 58 percent had a favorable view of him. Markey, by contrast, got just 24 percent favorability, with 27 percent of respondents undecided about him and 33 percent never having heard of him. In a head-to-head matchup, 48 percent of voters preferred Brown compared to 30 percent for Markey.

Markey could close that gap if he runs a strong campaign, but he’s been in a safe seat for decades, so he’s out of practice. Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss argues that Markey will need to “find his inner celebrity” if he wants to win. “[A] statewide race, particularly one that’s condensed into a few months, will require Markey to be much flashier than he’s had to be within the halls of Congress.” Markey may be wonky, but he’s been known to pull out the spark and flash. Expect to see a lot more of that in the coming months.