Climate Bill's Delay May Be A Good Thing

As Charles mentioned, the the long-awaited Kerry-Graham-Lieberman (KGL) energy and climate bill will NOT be unveiled on Monday as expected. Now that Harry Reid plans to move immigration legislation first, Graham is threatening to walk and Kerry has put the bill on hold. With the midterms looming, putting immigration first already virtually assured that climate legislation wouldn’t move this year; Graham’s stunt all but guarantees it.

I’m shocked to hear myself saying this, but: good.

I’ve spent the past year pushing hard for this bill both on MyDD and in my professional life, but over the past few days I have come to believe that a delay might actually be a good thing. That belief may run counter to conventional wisdom – Kerry said this year is the “last and best shot” for passing a bill and Politico’s tone echoes that sentiment – but KGL has deteriorated so much that waiting for a better bill after next January’s filibuster reform might actually be worth it. Once the rules for the next Congress are written, we may be able to get not just a stronger bill but an infinitely stronger bill than what could pass now.

Generally in politics I’m a fan of an incremental, something-is-better-than-nothing approach, and I started out that way on KGL. I hate to say it, but tipping point or not, the goal isn’t to write perfect legislation but to write passable legislation. To this end I was willing to swallow the KGL oil give-aways in exchange for the first carbon price in history and new subsidies for clean energy.

On Friday, however, it was reported that the bill would remove “the states' authority to set tougher emissions standards than the federal government.” And that’s beyond even the most pragmatic pale. So much of current federal energy and environmental laws originated with the states, particularly California. Banning the states from taking tougher action than the federal government would by itself turn this bill from a first step to a last step. It would stymie innovation and destroy our best tool for continuing to move the ball forward. I can swallow imperfection if it allows room for further improvement, but it appears that KGL was going to block such improvement for ever and always.

It now looks like this might be a non-issue. I feel sorry for the three negotiators who have been stabbed in the back, but maybe it’s best this way. The bill contained its many poison pills because of the 60-vote threshold the Repubs have for the first time in history imposed on nearly all Senate business. Come January, however, I am confident that Democrats will still control at least 53 seats and that some sort of filibuster reform will be reality. 

We can get a better bill with fewer votes then than we can with 60 votes now. KGL has sunk so much that the difference between those two bills might actually be enough to make flirting with the tipping point worth it.

Note: I am not writing on behalf of any of the environmental groups for which I’ve volunteered and/or worked. Many would probably disagree with my assessment of KGL and its timing. This post is solely my own.

Tags: Kerry Graham Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, John Kerry, Harry Reid, immigration, Climate change, Environment, Immigration Reform (all tags)

Comments

24 Comments

GOP Hypocrisy

Graham's 'faux' co-operation exposed. All that time trying to negotiate a deal with various GOP senators is just a waste. They will water the bill down relentlessly and then when the time comes they will withdraw support using some lame excuse.

by vecky 2010-04-25 01:45AM | 0 recs
RE: GOP Hypocrisy

The fact the Majority Leader pulled the rug out from under him and won't give it a vote this year is a lame excuse?

You were opposed to the bill yourself the other day in another comment, but now you're mad Graham is joining you in that frustration (albeit for a different reason)?

by Nathan Empsall 2010-04-25 01:53AM | 0 recs
RE: GOP Hypocrisy

Nah, I just don't find Graham's excuse believable. Plenty of proposed legislation never comes up to a vote or sees the light of day (just ask Sanders!) but that doesn't mean one pulls the rug. It's unlikely that either immigration or KGL will pass this year, but the Senate is going to consider plenty of other legislation in the meantime - the year still has 8 months to go. What if Kerry had exhibited this type of behavior? At best it's extremely childish. But I think Graham was just playing games all along - he was simply playing interference for the GOP leadership.

And yes, I can't support KGL currently, but with a few tweaks and amendments - legislating, I could have. 

by vecky 2010-04-25 02:09AM | 0 recs
RE: GOP Hypocrisy

Yeah, I hear ya, I could support KGL if the thing about the states was stripped. But not unless.

Yes, much other legislation is considered - but none of it as big as KGL, immigration overhaul, the health care bill, and Wall Street reform. And though there are dozens of proposals on each one, we all know that the bill the leadership pushes is the bill that counts. There is lots of legislation, but this is in that separate category by itself. And yes, the year has 8 months to go, but much of that will be spent on the midterms with no big votes taken. There's really only time for one more big issue before everyone locks up in campaign mode.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-04-25 02:24PM | 0 recs
John Kerry was the man who should have been President in 2004.

I must say I blanched when I read the provisions of this bill. I cannot believe such a dastardly compromise arose with John Kerry as one of the authors.

I, too, am normally a proponent of the incremental approach. With HCR, we were creating something from nothing, and this effort had failed dozens of times before. Pretty much everyone ultimately agreed in the end that laying the foundation now when we can was prudent, and that such a legislative heavy lift precluded the dream one-shot deal.

With the Climate Bill, we already have a powerful environmental regulatory framework with real enforcement powers in place. To undermine that under the guise of furthering this bill is simply unacceptable. Maybe Harry Reid knows that?

As you note, the bill would deny states the right to set stricter environmental levels than federal standards. State level progress has been instrumental in furthering nationwide progress, and the industries hate it. Can you imagine CA today if they had not been able to set stricter vehicle standards?

The nuclear power thing doesn't bother me. In fact, I am a huge proponent of nuclear power.

But what bothers me just as much as the state regulatory preclusion is the insidious little provision on preventing the EPA from regulating CO2 as a pollutant.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-04-25 02:53PM | 1 recs
RE: John Kerry was the man who should have been President in 2004.

The EPA provision bothers me too, but I can get past it because Congress is doing the job instead. If the Murkowski amendment were to pass sans a larger climate bill, then we'd be in trouble. But if Congress moves the EPA won't anyway so it's sort of redundant as far as a larger bill goes. And like you, I'm a fan of nukes. Not a huge proponent - we've got to work out the Indigenous and waste issues - but still a fan.

"Can you imagine CA today if they had not been able to set stricter vehicle standards?" Not only can I not envision CA, I can't envision the country. And so that's where it all falls apart.

 

by Nathan Empsall 2010-04-25 06:38PM | 0 recs
Where are the teabaggers on that one?

I thought they were all for state rights.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-04-26 12:05AM | 1 recs
RE: John Kerry was the man who should have been President in 2004.

That EPA provision was part of Waxman-Markey too, which is one reason I didn't think that bill was worth passing.

by desmoinesdem 2010-04-26 08:15AM | 0 recs
RE: GOP Hypocrisy

There would be plenty of time to take 'big votes' if the GOP wasn't obstructing everything and anything in the name of politics. If Graham could tell the leadership he can bring even 1/5th of his caucus with him simply not to filibuster the bill, the Dems could have 45-50 votes rounded-up in a couple of days,

by vecky 2010-04-25 03:19PM | 0 recs
good grief! graham protecting bud mccain

some say graham is playing the game here to protect pal mccain from a verry damaging immigration vote. if immigration is next mccain will surely oppose giving hayworth lots of ads with mccain pushing immigration reform time and again. so graham throws both climate and immi ref into chaos.

lemos is right- the senate cannot do 2 issues at once- this is something we must remedy asap. we have a jobs bill pending, billions the sen must approve to back up school districts so 300,000 teachers are fired, citizens united "fix,"  a hundred noms still not approved and the budget. la times says even after the climate bill was unveiled it wouldnt be on the floor for debate for another month! why- they got to send it to cbo and other agencies for analysis and to win the votes. good grief.

by art3 2010-04-25 02:33AM | 0 recs
hmmm...

Maybe Graham has used this to appease the ALIPAC people calling for him to reveal his sexual orientation to them?

 

Who knows, interesting timing for it though.

by Chuckie Corra 2010-04-25 07:55AM | 0 recs
This IS Our Last Best Chance

If you care about climate change as an issue, you better do everything you can to get Majority Leader Reid to put climate ahead of immigration and get on with passing the KGL bill this year.

Not only is this the best bill we can get this year, it may be the best bill we will get for a long time to come. If you look at the likely GOP gains in November, the D's will limp into 2011 with a slim majority in both houses next year. It's not crazy that they could lose the House.

Either way, look at the votes. If you're looking for a stronger bill, how do you get Landrieu's vote? How do you get Pryor or Ben Nelson? How do you get Rockefeller and Stabenow and Levin and Brown and McCaskill onto a stronger bill?

Sure, we can get 43 votes or maybe 45 votes on a stronger bill. But even if you do a deal on the filibuster, you'll still need some of these D votes to get to 51. Do the math. Who among these D Senators do you think would support a stronger bill?

Preemption is a concern. But a strong national standard is way better than anything we could do state by state. Since climate is a global issue, under a national cap state emission limits don't matter as much -- one state's stronger standards will only allow another state to pollute more.

If you're worried about nuclear and coal and offshore drilling -- all of these are valid concerns, but the KGL bill does very little more than what would otherwise be allowed in each of these areas.

The key is we need a plan to cut emissions now. Not in 2 years. Not in 5. Definitely not in 10. We need to pass a bill now or we will lose the ability to solve this crisis.

If you care about climate, you better get on the phone tomorrow and flood your Senators' offices with your call for passing the KGL bill now.

by samtparry 2010-04-25 03:15PM | 0 recs
RE: This IS Our Last Best Chance

Except that this isn't a "strong national standard." Not by a long shot.

Also, this bill doesn't cut emissions now.

by desmoinesdem 2010-04-26 08:16AM | 0 recs
RE: This IS Our Last Best Chance

I beg to differ. This bill would have called for 17% carbon reductions by 2020, exactly the same reductions as called for by the House bill and as promised by Obama in Copenhagen. And it would set an 80% reduction by 2050, exactly in line with the House bill and with what many scientists think is what America needs to do.

It can and should be strengthened over time, but as a starting point, this is a strong national cap, as strong as anything that has ever been seriously considered by Congress and as strong as President Obama himself has called for.

by samtparry 2010-04-27 01:05PM | 0 recs
RE: This IS Our Last Best Chance

Those reductions aren't mandatory, and there's no one to hold accountable if the nation doesn't reach them. They're goals, with no viable path set out in the bill to reach them. A goal is not a cap, and "calling for" is not "setting."

I would agree that this is a starting point, except for the ban on state action that I mentioned in the post. That makes it an ending point because state action is the best and perhaps only way to improve on this. Get rid of that provision, and I'll support the bill again.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-04-27 05:00PM | 0 recs
RE: This IS Our Last Best Chance

I'm not sure what you mean by the reductions not being mandatory. These will be legally binding carbon caps on the energy sector, at least. That's the centerpiece of the bill.

As for state preemption, I agree in an ideal world you wouldn't preempt state laws or EPA regs. But, under a national cap, state limits aren't nearly as powerful because one state's tougher limit could allow another state to pollute more.

Same with preempting EPA standards -- under a national cap, you would codify a much more certain path toward legally enforcable emission reductions. EPA regs can be overturned by subsequent administrations and can be preempted by Congress, as the Murkowski threat shows.

by samtparry 2010-04-27 07:52PM | 0 recs
RE: This IS Our Last Best Chance

I misunderstood your point. Caps on certain industries, yeah. A nation-wide cap - 17% reduction by 2020 - no. And since you said "this is a strong national cap," I thought you were talking about a single "national cap."

by Nathan Empsall 2010-04-27 10:51PM | 0 recs
RE: This IS Our Last Best Chance

My understanding of the bill is that there will be a firm sector-wide cap on energy, which is something like 70 or 80% of our carbon pollution. And for other sectors -- transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing -- there will be different approaches. But that the bill would set an overall national limit of 17% cuts below 2005 by 2020.

Of course, the bill hasn't been circulated yet, so we don't know all the details. But, everything I've read about this is that the emission reductions are overall national reductions, not just sector specific reductions.

by samtparry 2010-04-28 04:00PM | 0 recs
Slipped my mind

With the proper fillibuster reform, climate change regulation can be stronger and with teeth.  Nice catch Nat.

by optimusprime 2010-04-25 03:23PM | 1 recs
RE: Slipped my mind

Make no mistake -- even with filibuster reform, we will not get a stronger climate bill next year. Won't happen. Count the votes and you'll see why.

Pro-Climate-Action D's we could lose this fall: Reid, Burris (the IL seat), Kaufman (the DE seat), Bennet.

Pro-Climate-Action R we could lose this fall: McCain (primaried by J.D. "Little Rush" Hayworth).

Fence-sitting D's we could lose this fall: Specter, Lincoln (a probable no, anyway), Dorgan/ND seat, Bayh/IN seat.

If D's have 51-55 seats next year as I suspect, to get to even a simple majority, you'll need the support of nearly all of:

-- WV's Rockefeller and Byrd
-- VA's Warner and Webb
-- PA's Casey and Specter (if he's still there)
-- MO's McCaskill
-- OH's Brown
-- MI's Levin and Stabenow
-- MT's Baucus and Tester
-- NE's Nelson
-- LA's Landrieu
-- AK's Begich
-- AR's Pryor and Lincoln (if she's still there)

If you lose support from too many of these, you'll need to make it up with Republicans McCain of AZ, Snowe and Collins of ME, Lugar of IN, Brown of MA, Graham of SC, maybe Murkowski of AK.

I don't see too many strong progressive climate votes on this list.

It's a tough deal. Pass a flawed Senate climate bill now or pass a flawed Senate climate bill later.

But, here's the clincher: The House has already passed a bill this Congress by a very slim margin last June. D's will likely lose 30 or more seats in the House this year, and to make law you'll have to pass a new climate bill next year.

This isn't even close. It's time to pass the best possible bill we can this Senate and get the framework of a national carbon cap in place.

by samtparry 2010-04-27 08:37PM | 0 recs
RE: Slipped my mind

This NOLA rig could change the politics of offshore drilling - just look at Charlie Crist's latest flipflop - and I'm not talking about the coal incentives for guys like Rockefeller (Byrd may already be on board) or the agriculture exemption for Nelson. I'm talking about the blocks on future progress. And some of those names - Byrd, Brown, etc. - may be easier to persuade than you suggest. It's about the individuals as much as it is the states. Yes, some have signed meancing Dear Colleague letters, but hey, Bennett recruited how many Senators' signatures for the public option?

by Nathan Empsall 2010-04-27 10:55PM | 0 recs
RE: Slipped my mind

Yeah, the NOLA rig spill might change things a bit in the short-term. But keep in mind Katrina was only 4 1/2 years ago and it's almost completely forgotten in the context of global warming.

My basic point is that regardless of what happens in the Senate next year, the politics of climate action won't change a huge amount. It may get a little better. More likely it will get a little worse. There really is no way to know for sure. But regardless of which way the breeze blows, it won't be much of a change either way.

For me, the clincher is that the House has already passed a bill by the slimmest of margins. If we don't force Senate action on the strongest bill we can get this year, we will have squandered all that work in the House and will be confronting something like 20-40 new House Republicans.

I just don't see any feasible path to a stronger climate bill next Congress. Now, could we wait until Obama's second term? Sure, assuming he gets one and assuming the D's make gains in 2012, both of which are absolutely impossible to predict.

I appreciate your views, but your scenario of let's ditch Senate action this year and see what we can get next year or in the next 3-5 years is a very risky proposition.

I expand on all this on my blog: http://samtparry.com/2010/04/27/climate-vote-reality/

by samtparry 2010-04-28 03:53PM | 0 recs
Graham's Tantrum

is the latest in "I'm gonna take my marbles and go home" Republican infantilism.  He's upset because he knows this is going to drive away what few deluded Hispanics are sticking with his party.

by Bob H 2010-04-25 06:29PM | 0 recs
RE: Graham's Tantrum

Yet he's the lead Republican on immigration negotiations with Schumer.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-04-27 05:01PM | 0 recs

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