Fate of Climate and Energy Bill Uncertain as Graham Pulls Support

Fate of Climate and Energy Bill Uncertain as Graham Pulls Support

Alisa Opar
Published: 04/27/2010

Yesterday was supposed to see a highly anticipated bi-partisan climate and energy bill rolled out in the Senate. Instead, Democrats and the Obama administration went into damage-control mode after one of the bill’s three architects threatened to abandon negotiations. Now the prospects for the legislation, which had been murky, are even more uncertain.

The brouhaha stems from the bill’s Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Graham’s concern that Democrats and the White House will take up immigration reform before the climate bill. Graham and Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have spent months crafting the comprehensive climate and energy bill. Graham is also a strong supporter of immigration reform.

A sweeping overhaul to the nation's immigration laws is sure to be emotionally and politically charged. All of the time and energy that is sure to go into immigration reform—and not guaranteed to deliver—could derail passage of a climate bill. (Remember how healthcare reform took center stage last year?)

Putting off climate legislation could mean the death of it. The House narrowly passed its climate and energy bill in 2009. The Senate trio has been fine-tuning its version for months, meeting with both environmental leaders and industry officials, making the bill more agreeable to some skeptics with nuclear, coal, oil and gas concessions that have irked some environmentalists.

Even with Graham’s support, it’s not certain the bill would get the 60 votes needed to pass. Kerry has said this is the “last chance” for Congress to push through climate legislation. Republicans are likely to pick up seats in November elections, so it could be years before a climate bill gets another shot.

Back to damage control: Yesterday on MSNBC Lieberman said that Senate Majority Leader Reid “explicitly” reassured him that he was committed to pushing forward climate legislation. “He assumes that will be before the immigration reform bill is ready,” Lieberman said. “He knows our bill is ready and the immigration reform bill is not.” As the Washington Independent reports, once Graham is convinced of that, the climate legislation process will be back on track. “Lindsey Graham will come back to where he is and never left,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman and Kerry are reportedly expecting Graham to meet for talks today.

If the bill dies in the Senate, there are other options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced a short, cap-and-dividend bill. The legislation would force emitters to purchase carbon permits, and a chunk of the proceeds would be distributed to consumers. And there’s the EPA, which is set to begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and other large emitters next year. However, Republicans are already moving to strip the agency of its authority. 

The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman proposal might still be salvaged. “This climate bill won't go anywhere if Reid and Graham can't work things out—and soon. Enter Obama. White House staff has worked hard behind the scenes to facilitate the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman process, but some observers say Obama himself must broker a Graham-Reid truce to revive the bill,” the LA Times reports.

Reid told The New York Times that Graham was under “tremendous pressure” from fellow Republicans not to cooperate with Democrats on either energy or immigration. In a swipe, he added, “But I will not allow him to play one issue off of another, and neither will the American people. They expect us to do both, and they will not accept the notion that trying to act on one is an excuse for not acting on the other.”