Now that climate and energy legislation in the Senate has shriveled to a husk, the chance that maybe, just maybe, a renewable electricity standard (RES) could be added to the bill is raising last-minute hopes that all is not lost.  

Sure, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week that he couldn’t drum up enough support for an RES. But on Friday, 27 Senate Democrats sent a letter to Reid, making the case that a formal federal commitment to renewable energy is key to encouraging serious private investment in wind and solar power. And on Monday, a Republican, Sen. Sam Brownback from Kansas, a state with a lot of wind, jumped on board. That was enough to get Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader who is now doing work for the American Wind Energy Association, to claim that the magical 60 votes are there to pass an RES amendment.

Fear of commitment: But would an RES really justify popping some corks, especially if it’s likely to fall way below green groups’ goal of having 25 percent of the country’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2025? Bryan Walsh, in Time‘s Ecocentric blog, explains the benefits of an RES:

Too often U.S. policy on renewable power has been like a truck stuck in rush-hour traffic: stop-and-start. Generous tax subsidies help the wind or solar [industry] grow — but when they’re allowed [to] expire, the industry suddenly collapses.  By requiring America’s utilities to shift some of their production to clean energy, an RES could finally provide the renewable power industry the long-term certainty it needs to grow — creating new jobs along the way. “If you want to lead and you’re serious about green-collar job creation, then you need to set a goal,” said Iowa Governor Chet Culver, whose state gets around 20 percent of its electricity from wind. “I could not be more direct in my pleas to Congress to pass this renewable electricity standard. Our energy future depends on it.”

Kate Sheppard, writing for Mother Jones, adds this:

Solar and wind advocates say that even the House-passed standard is actually less ambitious than the path that the industry is already on … But at this point, they’ll take anything to put the U.S. government on record in support of a renewables mandate. “Getting a signal in place that we’re open for business is going to be critical to build the base in the U.S. and attract manufacturing,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association … “In this political climate we have to do what we can do.”

A slick maneuver: Without an RES, Reid’s bill is thin gruel. It includes funding for Home Star, which would provide rebates to people who do energy-saving retrofits on their homes; funding for a natural-gas truck fleet; money for the Land and Conservation Fund; and, of course, a crackdown on offshore oil drilling. It’s that last part that could turn things ugly again. As Coral Davenport writes in Politico‘s Morning Energy blog, the bill likely will include elements that Republicans won’t support, the goal being that they can then be portrayed as backers of Big Oil:

Possible provisions likely to raise Republican and oil industry hackles: a financial assurance requirement, in which offshore drillers would have to front capital to prove they could cover the costs of a spill or other disaster — a particularly onerous requirement for smaller independent firms; a provision to funnel new oil royalty revenues directly to the Land and Water Conservation Fund rather than to state coffers; and the retention of the Menendez limitless liability requirement, rather than a compromise $10 billion cap.

Cap-and-gag: Cap-and-trade may be dead for the rest of us, but for a lot of House Democrats, it’s feeling like acid reflux. Last summer, most Dems voted for the House’s climate bill, which included a cap-and-trade provision. They figured that eventually the Senate would follow suit, President Obama would sign it, and they could say they had struck a blow for clean energy and energy independence. But now that the Senate has dropped cap-and-trade like a bag of skunks, those House Dems feel they’ve been left out to dry, easy pickings for Republican opponents blasting away at “cap-and-tax,” as Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray report in The Washington Post.

Perhaps we’ve been too hasty: Finally, we may have found just the thing to get Republicans to start taking climate change seriously. As Anna Gorman writes in the Los Angeles Times, a new study concludes that devastation of farmland in Mexico brought on by global warming could spark a mass migration of Mexicans into the U.S.

Lou Dobbs must feel so conflicted.