Now that health care legislation is (virtually) over, a lot of people are wondering “What’s next.” But there’s a lot! Immigration, gay rights measures, financial reform, sentencing measures, and perhaps a new Supreme Court justice, to name a few off the top of my head. Oh, and the climate bill.

That bill took a right turn into uselessness, in my opinion, when the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman draft legislation was released last week. But others held a different view. Like Brad Plumer, who says that it sounds a lot like what the House passed last year. First off, the House bill wasn’t all that great; and second, Plumer omits the part where this would supersede both EPA regulation of carbon under the Clean Air Act and state-based initiatives like we have in California.

Brad Johnson, who I very much respect on this issue, has a helpful chart comparing Kerry-Graham-Lieberman to Waxman-Markey and the original Obama proposal. He calls KGL “consistent with President Obama’s principles and similar in its policy aims to the Waxman-Markey ACES Act.” Environmental groups appear to be on board as well.

I think David Roberts nails how to best approach this. With a weakened cap and carbon regulation process, the clean energy and efficiency provisions of the bill must be foregrounded and dramatically improved. He also wants to see legacy dirty coal plants phased out:

One of the biggest impediments to the growth of clean energy is America’s fleet of aging dirty coal plants. Just under 10 percent of U.S. power plants produce fully half the power sector’s carbon pollution. Of those plants, 83 percent were built 30 or more years ago. That same group of decrepit plants also produces a disproportionate share of particulate emissions and mercury pollution, at substantial public health cost.

Because they are fully amortized and face no pollution controls (they were “grandfathered” under the Clean Air Act), the energy these plants produce is extremely cheap. For that reason, they have been run more intensively the last 20 years. For the same reason, no carbon price likely in the next 20 years will render them uneconomic. They must be addressed by regulation.

The energy bill that came out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee last year is simply inadequate. And attaching that to a weak, phased-in carbon cap along with other major pre-emptions and restrictions designed for the support of business seems like a total non-starter. Not to mention the fact that Republicans have now refused to legislate for the rest of the year – as if they had been up to this point.

I think there are brighter prospects elsewhere than climate and energy. Still, the KGL bill has somehow survived, so far.

David Dayen

David Dayen