A Breakthrough in the Senate Could Lead to Passage of Climate Bill

Closing the gap on climate legislationThe Kerry-Boxer climate bill has received a boost over the weekend when Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joined bill co-sponsor John Kerry (D-Mass.) in defining a broad bipartisan agreement that they believe can pass the Senate.

Graham does not support the legislation as it stands now, but has indicated a willingness to sign-off on the compromise tentatively worked out with Kerry. The spirit of that agreement and the need to move forward was spelled out in a joint op-ed piece published in the New York Times on Sunday.

We refuse to accept the argument that the United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate change,” Graham and Kerry wrote. “We are also convinced that we have found both a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future.”

“…Our partnership represents a fresh attempt to find consensus that adheres to our core principles and leads to both a climate change solution and energy independence. It begins now, not months from now — with a road to 60 votes in the Senate.”

Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer (D-California) unveiled their draft bill late last month with no Republican support, but have since courted several dozen “fence-sitters,” including Graham, needed in the “60 vote climb” to passage in the Senate.

Optimism and calls to “get it done”

Josh Dorner of the Clean Energy Works responded just minutes after the op-ed piece appeared in the Times, characterizing the agreement as a “game-changer.” Writing in his blog Climate Progress, Joe Romm said that “the odds of a Senate bill just jumped through the roof,” adding that “Now the Senate needs to get off their butts and get this done.” Romm projects that Graham’s pledge to seek a compromise bill will sway at least Senators McCain of Arizona and Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, all past supporters of climate legislation, leading to possible votes from Richard Lugar of Indiana, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The proposed compromise isn’t just preaching to the choir – or the “nearly converted”. Scott Segal, an attorney with Bracewell & Giuliani who lists power and manufacturing firms as their clients, says the alliance between Kerry and Graham could push the odds in favor of passage.”Bottom line: The senators’ position is a definite step forward,” he said. “They have outlined many of the key issues that need to be resolved in order to achieve political consensus behind a bill, and that’s very useful.”

Nuclear, offshore, and jobs

In the Times op-ed, the Senators said that investment in clean energy sources like wind and solar must be complemented with increased deployment of nuclear energy. They called for a streamlined permitting process for new nuclear plants, and increased investment, research, and development of solutions to “our nuclear waste problem.”

Kerry and Graham also address the need to break the nation’s dependence on foreign sources of oil, and “recognize that for the foreseeable future we will continue to burn fossil fuels” and “for too long, we have ignored potential energy sources off our coasts and underground.” Saying that fossil energy extraction and consumption should be done as “cleanly as possible,” the Senators say that the United States should become the “Saudi Arabia of clean coal,” calling for incentives for companies to develop carbon capture and storage technology.

They maintain that no more jobs should be sacrificed to foreign competition, and propose a “border tax” on items produced in countries that do not adhere to high environmental standards. “This is consistent with our obligations under the World Trade Organization and creates strong incentives for other countries to adopt environmental protections,” they write.

Beware the EPA

The Times piece ends with a warning: if Congress fails to pass climate and energy legislation, then the EPA will impose new regulations that will be harsher and lack the job protections and investment incentives proposed in their plan.

The message to those who have stalled for years is clear: killing a Senate bill in not success; indeed, given the threat of agency regulation, those who have been content to make the legislative process grind to a halt would later come running to Congress in a panic to secure the kinds of incentives and  investments we can pass today. Industry needs certainty that comes with Congressional action.”

Taking the lead, empowering Copenhagen

Kerry and Graham conclude their call for a bipartisan effort by entreating the nation to once again take a leadership role, and by so doing, giving negotiators at the upcoming COP15 climate talks the moral authority to demand global action on climate change.

We are confident that a legitimate bipartisan effort can put America back in the lead again and can empower our negotiators to sit down at the table in Copenhagen in December and insist that the rest of the world join us in producing a new international agreement on global warming. That way, we will pass on to future generations a strong economy, a clean environment and an energy-independent nation.”

With COP15 only 54 days away, it is, as Joe Romm says, now time for Congress to get off their butts and move on climate change legislation. The alliance between Kerry and Graham show that the issue need not be little more than a partisan punching bag for ideologues to beat each other. It may actually be possible for Congress to move the country – and the world – forward.

Additional sources and further reading:
Kerry-Graham New York Times op-ed
Greenwire (subscription)

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schuenemanhttps://tdsenvironmentalmedia.com
Tom is the founder and managing editor of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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