Democrats surrendering on climate change? [updated]

Stephen Stromberg
Copyright 2010
Thursday, July 22, 2010; 3:11 PM

Update, 2:45 p.m.: Reid, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and White House energy chief Carol Browner just finished speaking at the Capitol. They all repeatedly insisted that they weren???t giving up on a comprehensive climate bill. Quite the opposite, they said. But through all the protesting-too-much, it sure sounded like they were surrendering, for now. They said that they just don???t have the votes. They didn???t give much hope that anyone could be swayed. And, tellingly, Reid somberly thanked everyone for their effort. Environment fail. -- It looks more and more like President Obama won???t be able to make the oceans stop rising this year. He and Senate Democrats have kicked climate legislation down the road since the beginning of 2009. And now Democratic aides are telling The Hill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won???t bring a climate bill to the floor next week as planned. Instead, he???ll introduce legislation with provisions relating to the oil spill and a few other, non-controversial energy proposals, pass that before August and then, perhaps, take up a more ambitious bill in the fall -- just before midterm elections, when little is likely to pass. Reid will apparently speak on this around 2:00 p.m. today. Many senators insist that there simply isn???t enough time left in the legislative calendar to pass a big energy bill, particularly one that with a meaningful climate section. That has a morsel of truth in it -- it would be a lift. But the underlying problem that has dogged this debate over the last year and a half is that some key Republican and Democratic senators are scared of voting for the most efficient policy available -- placing a price on carbon -- even if the policy were designed so that most Americans and, for that matter, the Treasury, wouldn???t lose a dime in the process. Republicans who should know better have found it politically useful to attack -- hypocritically -- this market-based solution, a scheme their own party embraced in the early 1990s. Democrats haven???t stood up well to the attacks, especially after they watered the policy down with giveaways to favored constituencies. Given the low priority they attached to climate legislation, the president and other Democratic leaders encouraged others to treat it as expendable this year. If the Senate continues to do nothing, as seems ever more likely, they won???t like the result. Without a real climate bill, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will begin to regulate carbon emissions using its existing authorities under the Clean Air Act beginning next January. That???s fine for some environmentalists -- the government will begin to battle greenhouse emissions seriously. But between the regulatory uncertainty, the bureaucratic hassle and the legal wrangling it will encourage, the EPA approach will almost certainly hurt a lot more.

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