In July, I speculated that Sen. Lamar Alexander might lead some Republicans to back a climate protection bill if Democratic leaders made some concessions regarding nuclear power. The prospect was tantalizing, as I noted then: “The Democratic caucus is not solid enough on climate issues to presume GOP votes are unneeded. Anyone giving a positive signal is at least worth feeling out.”

But Alexander quickly buried that possibility, setting wildly impossible goals for nuclear and ramping up intellectually incoherent attacks on the House climate bill.

Now, the possibility of Republican support for “cap and trade” legislation is getting renewed attention. GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham explicitly raised the possibility of a deal, involving more nuclear power and offshore drilling, and Democratic leaders are hearing him out. ClimateWire reports:

Key Senate Democrats signaled yesterday they are willing to negotiate with Republicans on nuclear power and expanded domestic oil and gas development if it helps in nailing down the 60 votes necessary for floor passage on a comprehensive global warming and energy bill. … “A guy like Senator Kerry is looking for coalitions,” Graham said. “If you had a bill that would allow for responsible offshore drilling, a robust nuclear power title, I think you could get some Republican votes for a cap-and-trade system.”

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Graham made similar comments to the Houston Chronicle, which suggested what a deal may look like:

“To get a bipartisan bill on climate change, you’re going to have to make it attractive for Republicans to vote for a cap-and-trade system,” Graham said.

“There’s a way to grow Republican support but it is a give-and-take. Republicans have to give in the area of recognizing that climate change is real and a cap-and-trade system is part of the solution. I’d ask our Democratic colleagues to give on the idea that you can’t be serious about climate change solutions if you exclude nuclear power.”

Kerry has been in talks with Graham and other Senate moderates over possible compromises.

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The current Kerry-Boxer bill includes a modest nuclear section focused mainly on worker training. But nuclear advocates want to see the measure include loan guarantees to propel new plants — the last one was built in 1990 — and solutions for one of the biggest issues confounding the industry: how to store spent fuel rods.

I am no shill for nuclear power. We still don’t have a nuclear waste solution (nor does nuclear-loving right-wing favorite France), and new plants are extremely costly, not exactly small problems.

But I am also not blind to the fact that we already have nuclear power and it’s not going away any time soon. So sinking a climate bill over a nuclear compromise will do nothing to change our current reliance on nukes, while also doing nothing to cut carbon emissions.

The Republican whining about nuclear power has always been strange, because the House climate bill already supports nuclear power. A House aide who worked on the bill said, “twice as many new nuclear plants would be built by 2025 under [the House bill] than without the legislation.” All we are debating about is “how much” more nuclear, not “if any.”

Coastal drilling, it’s a similar story. Is it a waste of time to do more? Of course. There just ain’t that much oil.

But we already do some coastal drilling. The question is if we can find a way to permit a little more (note that it would take years before any actual hole got drilled anyway, so it may not be that big a concession) without creating significant environmental problems in exchange for a comprehensive plan to sufficiently cap carbon once for all.

Do I have great confidence that a few conservative Republicans are willing to face down the Teabagger fringe and strike a hard bargain? No. But any feeler is worth exploring.

Do I relish the nature of these potential deals? No. But the climate crisis threat is imminent. And it will be impossible to get the Senate to pass a real carbon cap, as it was in the House, without some unpleasant compromises.

The carbon cap is the ultimate big fish, so we should keep our eye on the ball.

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