Seeking to resuscitate stalled global warming legislation in Washington’s suddenly changed political climate, a bipartisan group of senators including John Kerry of Massachusetts has been conducting private talks this week with the White House and a key business group over an array of concessions sought by Republicans.
The election of Scott Brown as Kerry’s colleague has added urgency to the negotiations for a compromise….
The front page of yesterday’s Boston Globe proves that I am not the last optimistic person about the bipartisan clean air, clean energy jobs bill, which preserves a livable climate and reduces our nearly $1 billion a day dependence on foreign oil.
Trying to win Brown’s support for a deal is part of the effort.
Good. The bill can’t pass without at least 4 Republican votes, and very possibly more. I’ll discuss the prospects for getting Brown’s vote in a later post, but fundamentally, the bill doesn’t merely require several R’s to have a chance at passing. It would be far better for the nation if it had more like 6 to 8, even at the expense of putting in some really annoying crap in the bill.
Yes, I’d still like to see a bill that Snowe, Collins, Graham, Lugar, Voinovich, Murkowski, Brown, and even John McCain would support — okay, maybe McCain is hopeless, especially now. The point is to send a message to the nation and the world that America is in this for the long, long haul.
I don’t think it is news to CP readers that in every bill that must be done, there is an element of … Mary Poppins: a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down (see Graham (R-SC): “If you had a bill that would allow for responsible offshore drilling, a robust nuclear power title, I think you could get some Republican votes for a cap-and-trade system”).
Enviros increasingly get this:
Realizing that the climate change bill will die without Republican and moderate Democratic support, environmentalists in recent months have been reexamining their priorities and considering whether they should give up long-held opposition over issues such as offshore drilling in exchange for action on the broader issue of reducing greenhouse gas production.
“Many people understand that getting a bill through the Senate may require accepting policies that were previously unacceptable,’’ [CAP’s Dan] Weiss said.
Previously unacceptable to some — offshore drilling and major nuclear title — is sugar to others.
While the status quo media has labeled the climate bill moribund (again), the tripartisan trio are like Energizer bunnies of clean energy. They keep going and going and going to meetings with key players:
Kerry accompanied Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, to a White House meeting on Wednesday with presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to discuss shaping a bipartisan bill. The trio met Thursday with officials of the US Chamber of Commerce, which has been critical of “cap-and-trade’’ measures to limit greenhouse gases that have passed the House and been approved by a Senate committee.
At the meeting, the senators said they were focusing on a strategy that would provide subsidies to kick-start construction of nuclear power plants, encourage the development of technology that would bury carbon emissions created by the burning of coal, and promote offshore drilling.
Although the chamber will make no commitment until a bill is unveiled, its vice president for government affairs, Bruce Josten, said that “generally we were in synch’’ because Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman were proposing an array of incentives for developing energy resources that would coincide with carbon emissions reductions. Josten said it was the first time he had met with Kerry to discuss climate change.
Kerry said yesterday via e-mail that he is trying to follow a different political route on climate talks to avoid the pitfalls encountered during the health care negotiations.
“Unlike health care, we start out with a bipartisan issue where a progressive senator from Massachusetts and a conservative from South Carolina have already struck an alliance,’’ Kerry said, referring to himself and Graham. “We never had that on health care. Lindsey Graham and I even had a great meeting with the US Chamber of Commerce this week to get them engaged. What’s that tell you?’’
It tells me that 1) they remain damn serious about getting a comprehensive bill and 2) politics makes very strange bedfellows (see “Chamber admits calling for ‘Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century’ was dumb”).
As I’ve said before, the notion of a nuclear title is not news “” that was always going to happen. While I wouldn’t be thrilled with all conceivable provisions such a title might have, the overwhelming majority are unlikely to have a significant impact or even cost the taxpayers much money, as long as nuclear power plants remain so damn expensive (see “Nuclear Bombshell: $26 Billion cost “” $10,800 per kilowatt! “” killed Ontario nuclear bid”).
If the nuclear industry could ever get its act together and come up with one or two standardized, modular, affordable designs, they might become a major climate solution. And that wouldn’t be a terrible thing, given just how much clean energy we are going to need to stabilize near 2°C warming. But I’m not expecting any major design improvements or big cost drops for a decade or more in this country.
And most of the potential drilling provisions bother me less than the nuclear ones for two fundamental reasons:
- When oil prices soar in the coming years, Democrats are not going to be able to resist the demand for opening more area to drilling anyway “” so they might as well get a climate deal in return now. Oil is likely to blow past $100 a barrel in Obama’s first term “” and could well blow past $150 a barrel in what will hopefully be his second term (see “Deutsche Bank: Oil to hit $175 a barrel by 2016).” Opening more federal acreage is inevitable.
- Opening more federal acreage probably won’t lead to any significant extra drilling for at least another decade. I had a long analysis of this last year “” “The cruel offshore-drilling hoax.” The oil companies already have access to some 34 billion barrels of offshore oil they haven’t even developed yet, but ending the federal moratorium on offshore drilling would probably add only another several billion barrels, generating under 100,000 barrels a day in new supply “” maybe 0.1% of world production “” sometime after 2020. A leading EIA analyst told me in 2008 that ending the entire federal moratorium is “certainly not going to make a difference in the next 10 years.” My 2008 analysis discusses why. If this deal ripens, I’ll do another post.
We need to keep our eyes on the prize “” a shrinking economy-wide cap, coupled with major provisions to boost energy efficiency and and other clean technologies. This is what we need to complete the transformation to a clean energy economy begun in the stimulus, generating $100 billion a year in new U.S. investment in clean energy, sufficient to compete with the Europeans and Asians who want to eat our lunch in this most rapidly growing industry of the century (see “The only way to win the clean energy race is to pass the clean energy bill”).
We can’t embrace the magical thinking of the do-nothing crowd, which was led by President Bush for 8 years, that says funding R&D is all we need to do to save a livable climate (see “The breakthrough technology illusion”).
Even more important, it is what we need to achieve an international deal that gives us a fighting chance to stabilize anywhere near 2°C total warming and avert catastrophic impacts.
If this is gonna happen, it’s because everybody took some medicine and everybody got some sugar….