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Kerry-Lieberman Climate Bill Released Tomorrow

David Roberts gets people up to speed on the Kerry-Lieberman (formerly Kerry-Graham-Lieberman) climate and energy bill, set for release tomorrow. He reasons that the chances for passage are low, but may grow if the bill improves on its way through the Senate.

The BP Gulf oil disaster has completely scrambled the politics of this stuff. The White House is terrified — scared they’ll be stuck with responsibility; scared their response will be seen as inadequate; and scared (believe it or not) that they’ll be seen as overreacting, shutting down all drilling and raising gas prices. No one in Congress is quite sure where public opinion will come out. And of course the spill isn’t over yet — it could get much worse!

One certain effect is that coastal state drilling opponents, who might have had a little wiggle room to compromise before, now have none. Menendez, Lautenberg, and Bill Nelson absolutely will not vote for a bill with drilling […]

There is still a narrow (and, yes, improbable) path to passage. Here’s how it goes: Kerry and Lieberman introduce their bill on Wed., looking roughly like it looks now, with drilling provisions intact like Lieberman wants. It fizzles, lost amidst Elena Kagan, tornadoes, and Gordon Brown. After a couple weeks, buoyed by public opinion that is clearly turning against drilling and in favor of clean energy, Reid takes control of the process, strips drilling out, boosts the energy efficiency and renewable energy provisions, and gives the bill a big, public push.

The other option is that Reid dramatically narrows the scope and comes up with an energy-only bill, which could be better than nothing if the energy efficiency and renewable standards are strong, but which would be worse than nothing if based on the truly horrible Senate Natural Resources Committee bill which they passed out of committee last year.

The wild-card, for Roberts, is whether the President wants to deal with this issue and become its public champion in the months ahead. It looked as if Obama would wig out on health care when the going got tough, until he didn’t. So I suppose it’s possible that he makes a public push for some “win” on energy. Who knows what that looks like, however. But the President has certainly made no effort to leverage the BP oil disaster toward a clean energy solution, so why would that dynamic change in a few weeks – which is really all the time left.

Either way, I pretty much agree with Kevin Drum that cap and trade or a carbon tax or any kind of climate cap is dead in the near term. It’s possible to get support for a renewable standard and energy efficiency measures – there were 59 votes for a half-decent RES in 2007, but Mary Landrieu cast the deciding vote against.

Beyond that, it’s time to look at shooting a cannon full of sulfur into the sky or something.

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David Dayen

David Dayen