Is Lindsey Graham Scuttling the Senate Climate Bill a Bad Thing?

On Friday John Kerry (D-MA) announced his intent to unveil a new and improved Senate  climate bill. It had ìtri-partisanî support from Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Just a day later, Senator Graham announced that he would not support the legislation if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) decided to put immigration reform ahead of the proposed climate bill.

Iím a little torn about how I feel. On the one hand, passing a climate bill is an incredibly important component of US policy. Though Americans may have lost some interest in climate change and become more concerned with immigration in light of Arizona's new, ludicrous immigration law, thereís still a great need to act on climate change legislation. People often have trouble picturing far-off threats. But climate change has a much greater probability of aversely affecting us if we donít act soon to start curbing emissions than immigration problems.

Wouldnít you know it, the bill also has some upsides. The name of the climate bill and the language in it is quite strong. It's called the Clean Energy, Jobs, and American Power Act. Linking clean energy to the economic recovery and independence nullifies the idea of it being a "crunchy" environmental bill. At the same time, it also includes some "crunchy" environmental ideas including helping poor countries adapt to climate change and protecting wildlife and habitat. Itís comprehensive in its approach. The bill doesn't just deal with energy and jobs, but also national security, state-level adaptation, and public health. Finally, it also oversees only 2% of emitters, but manages to regulate three quarters of all national emissions.

On the other hand, the climate bill crafted by the three Senators leaves a lot to be desired. It kicks a lot of free emissions permits to big polluters. It doesn't regulate agriculture, which accounts for 20% of all emissions globally. It includes language on clean coal, but provides a paltry $10 billion over 10 years for a technology that is still pretty far off and has a lot of question marks as to how effective it will be at actually reducing emissions. It aims to lower emissions based on 2005 and not 1990 standards. It takes the power away from the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. And perhaps most damningly, it has the support of three of the big five oil companies. Any bill that has the support of the business at the root of climate change should ring some alarm bells.

Oh, and it has a stupid new name for cap and trade: the Pollution and Reduction Investment Mechanism. (What a mouthful!) With such a strong bill name, you think they would've come up with a better (re)name for the main mechanism they plan to use to reduce emissions.

So the bill is a mixed bag. Is it worth postponing immigration reform and trying to pass it? If it doesn't make it before the Senate before midterm elections, it's unlikely that a climate bill with any chance of passing will be seen for at least two years, though, given likely Republican gains in both chambers of Congress. The current regional climate efforts might be enough to make up for the national vacuum. On the other hand, global negotiations could be hurt if the US is seen as weak on climate. There's no perfect path forward. I really am torn about it, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. So what do you think? Try to pass a flawed climate bill or wait a few more years for stronger legislation?

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