I’ve resisted writing the obligatory “what Scott Brown’s victory means for the climate bill” post, mainly because the real answer is Nobody Knows and Everyone’s Full of Sh*t. What pundit wants to say that?
Certainly everyone in the DC Village agrees that the Mass. special election was the Biggest Thing Evar (unlike, say, the Oregon special election wherein voters chose to raise taxes on rich people and businesses — only conservative news is big news). Congressional Democrats’ first reactions to Brown’s win were predictably and pathetically hysterical, with one after another racing to the microphone to assure voters that they’d gotten the message and wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to ever again try to pass any of the items on the agenda that got them elected.
The dust has settled a little, but this is still an extraordinarily volatile political climate. Conventional wisdom has been that with polarization so high and tempers so raw, the climate/energy bill is doomed. I’ve been holding out slivers of hope, though. The Obama administration and Harry Reid have both recently reiterated that they want a comprehensive bill this session.
Now, however, it looks like Sen. Lindsey Graham — the token Republican working on the Kerry/Graham/Lieberman “tripartisan” bill — has officially bailed on an economy-wide cap-and-trade system:
“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.
To me, regardless of what Obama or Reid may want, this signals the death knell for a comprehensive cap-and-trade program, this year and probably for the duration of Obama’s term in office. If Graham won’t go for it, no Republican will, certainly not the 6-8 Republicans needed. Indeed, opposition to cap-and-trade has become part of the Republican purity pledge. As long as the rabid teabag base has total control over the party, there will be no flexibility on this. And 41 senators is all they need to block it.
Graham’s comments seem to point to an alternative that’s been much-discussed recently: a scaled-back cap-and-trade program that would cover only the electricity sector. That would be coupled with some version of the (pitifully weak) American Clean Energy Leadership Act passed by Bingaman’s Energy Committee last year, with additional subsidies for offshore drilling and nuclear power.
Would the resulting bill be worth a damn? Put it this way: it would be possible to craft a good package of climate and energy legislation with a cap-and-trade system covering utilities, ambitious renewable energy mandates, stringent energy efficiency regulations, and a massive round of investments in clean energy.
That’s not what will pass. My prediction is that whatever K/G/L come up with will look more or less like energy policy over the last 20 years: a hodgepodge of subsidies and tax breaks for favored industries. At this point there seems little hope left of anything better.
There’s much to discuss about the bill, the political fight that will take shape around it, and the best way forward for clean energy advocates in coming years. For now I just wanted to mark what looks to me like the final passing of the dream of an economy-wide price on carbon.