I wouldn’t want to mislead readers into thinking that it will be easy to get a climate bill this year.  Fundamentally, the politicians simply don’t understand the urgency on the climate science side, and they don’t understand it is a winning political issue with both progressives and independents in every single poll — unlike, say, health care reform (see “It’s all about Independents — and Independence“).

Having botched progressive strategy and messaging for a year, who can expect a sudden turn-around?  And so even the NY Times editorial board, which makes a persuasive “Case for a Climate Bill,” starts:

The conventional wisdom is that the chances of Congress passing a bill that puts both a cap and a price on greenhouse gases are somewhere between terrible and nil.

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That is indeed the conventional wisdom inside the DC Beltway.  But the NYT immediately follows that with

President Obama can start to prove the conventional wisdom wrong by making a full-throated case for a climate bill in his State of the Union speech this week.

I want to be clear upfront that while I agree with the NYT that Obama is the key to getting a bill, if there isn’t a bill, the blame would go directly to the anti-science crowd (in and out of Congress), who have spread disinformation and demagogued the issue, while exploiting an antidemocratic supermajority “requirement” in the Senate (see “The central question for 2010: Will anti-science ideologues be able to kill the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill?“).

Indeed, the fundamental reason why the bill isn’t dead is that unlike HCR, it has a serious conservative champion, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and many moderate Republicans who have at various times indicated support for economy-wide action.  Today Graham was quoted in the NYT rather awkwardly saying what he usually says:

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“Realistically, the cap-and-trade bills in the House and the Senate are going nowhere,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who is trying to fashion a bipartisan package of climate and energy measures. “They’re not business-friendly enough, and they don’t lead to meaningful energy independence.”

Mr. Graham said the public was demanding that any energy legislation from Washington focus on creating jobs, whether by drilling for offshore oil or building wind turbines.

“What is dead is some massive cap-and-trade system that regulates carbon in a fashion that drives up energy costs,” he said.

The first quote is Graham making clear that his effort is something completely different and bipartisan than the House bill (Waxman-Markey) or Kerry-Boxer.  The final quote looks a tad at odds with previous statements, assuming the NYT reported it verbatim.

These quotes have caused much angst in the enviro community, as typified by Dave Roberts at Grist who just published this piece based on Graham’s presumed the abandonment of an economy-wide bill, “The death knell for comprehensive cap-and-trade.”

Graham immediately released a statement:

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on energy independence and climate change efforts.

“The energy legislation that was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is not strong enough to lead us to energy independence. The climate change legislation passed by the House of Representatives and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is too onerous on business and does not enjoy bipartisan support.

“My goal is to continue working with Senators Kerry, Lieberman and my Senate colleagues to create a new pathway forward that focuses on a more robust energy security package and a more business-friendly climate legislation.

“I am committed to finding a new way forward as I believe energy security is a short and long-term job creator for our country. Clean air is a shared value by both parties and all Americans. I remain hopeful after discussing this matter with conservation groups, businesses, and Senate colleagues we can be successful this year.”

Graham is working in good faith to achieve the best bill he can, and he certainly understands it will be very hard to pass a bill that doesn’t put some constraint on carbon.  Last week he told E&E (subs. req’d):

“I can get every Republican for an energy independence bill, OK? But there are not 60 votes,” Graham said. “You’re not going to get the nuclear power provisions you want unless you do something on emission controls.”

UPDATE:  I should have added that John Kerry (D-MA) also responded to the NYT article.

We are not scaling back our efforts. We have not changed our goals one bit. We are simply trying to figure out what the magic formula is to be able to get 60 votes but our goal remains exactly what it was before: to price carbon and to create a target for the reduction of emissions that is real. That’s the goal.

Many folks viewed as near-certain no-votes are quoted in a Climate Wire story reprinted by the NYT as open to some emissions controls:

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said yesterday that she is open to a broad climate and energy bill as an alternative to the U.S. EPA climate regulations expected in the coming months.

“I am for a legislative solution, not a rulemaking, not an unaccountable rulemaking process,” said Landrieu, one of three Senate Democrats who co-sponsored a resolution that would strip EPA of that authority. “I’m for an accountable legislative process to achieve that, and I’d be open to some modification of cap and trade that really recognizes the importance of the refining industry here. Because we’re going to have a supply shortage of oil and refined products. We need to do it all. We need to be producing more and particularly more natural gas.

“I think there’s a way forward, but it’s most certainly going to be bipartisan, and it’s most certainly going to be from the center out,” Landrieu added.

Is that real or just posturing?  Who knows, but it’s at least as big a deal as Graham’s quote.  And then there’s this:

Also opening the door again was Sen. Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who held out until the very end
during last month’s Senate deliberations on health care reform legislation. Nelson in past interviews has questioned whether Congress had any interest in tackling such a complicated subject as climate change in an election year, but he did not rule it out last week.

“I’d hope energy policy would still be alive and well,” Nelson said. “I’d hope it can have strong, bipartisan support, at least that’s what I’m hoping.”

Nelson said he has not had detailed conversations yet with Kerry, Graham and Lieberman. But he said he is open to negotiations on setting a limit on greenhouse gas emissions. “I want to see what the legislation does,” he said. “I said I can support cap. I have trouble with cap and trade, the trade part of it. So if it’s cap and trade, watered down, and it’s only the trade watered down, that won’t satisfy me.”

Honestly, who the heck knows what anything Nelson says means?  The article continues:

The recent comments from Landrieu and Nelson shift the senators from “probably no” back to the “fence sitter” category on E&E’s analysis (pdf) of the Senate global warming debate. They join 27 others, including Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

What are the chances of a comprehensive bill this year?  It’s now officially anyone’s guess.  Who could have possibly predicted the turn of events on the healthcare bill?

The NYT reports that Obama will not be backing away from the need for comprehensive legislation tonight:

Another White House official, who insisted on anonymity to avoid overshadowing the State of the Union address, said President Obama would restate his commitment to a bill that addresses global warming along with measures to increase energy efficiency and clean-energy technology.

The official said the White House would support legislation that provided incentives for oil and gas drilling and for construction of nuclear plants, as well as provisions that helped industries that use a lot of energy and were vulnerable to foreign competitors.

But the president will also insist that any legislation also contain some form of cap on emissions of heat-trapping gases to make good on his pledge to reduce global warming pollution by 17 percent over 2005 levels by 2020.

Ultimately, the President is going to have to do exactly what he did in Copenhagen if he wants a bill — negotiate directly with leaders and iron out a deal with specific language.  Let’s dear what Obama has to say, and then I’ll discussed in the next few days what I think Obama has to do to pass a bill that enables him to keep good his pledge, move the US in the direction of reducing emissions and move forward the process of getting an international deal.