Experts weigh chances of Kerry-Lieberman energy bill

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sens. John F. Kerry and Joseph I. Lieberman introduced a long-awaited climate and energy bill on Thursday. The Post asked environmental and policy experts to assess climate legislation's chances. Below, responses from Phyllis Cuttino, Frank O'Donnell, John W. Rowe, Dan Schnur, Kenneth P. Green, William Antholis and Strobe Talbott.


Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee

Conventional wisdom says that Congress ducks tough choices in election years, predicting at best a watered-down energy bill. The same doubters said health reform was dead until we passed it. They forget that Congress passed the Clean Air Act in an election year.

Two Congresses ago, 38 senators voted for climate legislation. Last Congress, 54. There are 59 Senate Democrats. With several Republicans looking at the American Power Act with fresh eyes, 60 votes are achievable.

This year is also different. Industries that successfully opposed previous legislation stand with environmentalists behind this one. In part, that is because if Congress doesn't legislate, the Environmental Protection Agency will regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. The House has already passed a bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the Senate must act. President Obama has endorsed our legislation and doubled down on legislative victory. And the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has underscored the stakes.

Al Gore and I held the first climate-change hearings 22 wasted years ago. Time and again, we've said, "Wait till next year, don't give up." But Pastor Joel Hunter is right: It's not enough to say "I really wanted to protect the Earth and the poor, but I wasn't sure the votes were there." We're not waiting any longer; we can do it now.


President of Clean Air Watch

A year ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of the city's best vote counters, observed that "this may surprise people, but I think health-care reform is easier than all this global warming stuff."

Reid looks prophetic as Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) founder with climate legislation. They spent months on an inside-the-Beltway strategy: offering special deals to appease powerful special-interest lobbies -- oil, coal, power, agriculture, etc. -- in hopes that those lobbies would persuade Republicans to sign up.

So far that strategy is a bust. No Republicans have yet reached out for the Hail Mary pass that Kerry and Lieberman tossed, and without substantial Republican support, it doesn't have a prayer. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) walked away after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told him not to expect additional Republican support.

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