Besieged Climate Bill Due Out Tomorrow

Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman plan to introduce their climate bill tomorrow, three weeks later than first planned and in a political landscape thrown into chaos by the Gulf oil spill, leading many to conclude the bill’s prospects are about as dim as a bad air day in Beijing.

The bill suffered its first set back in late April when Senator Lindsey Graham, its sole Republican sponsor, yanked his support after the Democrats announced they would pursue controversial immigration reform at the same time as the climate bill.

Then the Gulf oil spill happened — and then really happened, when news got out that the leak was much bigger than first assumed — making one of the core planks of the climate bill, expanded drilling, politically indigestible for Democrats who might have once supported a compromise with pro-drilling Republicans.

Finally, on Monday the curtain went up on a yet another complicating factor, President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Kagan’s confirmation hearings are expected to take up a lot of the Senate’s precious, precious time this summer — time that could be spent haggling over legislation.

Meanwhile, the bill has been sent to the US EPA for an economic analysis which must be completed before it can be debated on the Senate floor, a review which could take another four weeks.

But what’s in it?

We’ve noted some of the bill’s key elements before, including a form of cap and trade for some industries, incentives for alternative energy and carbon capture technologies, loan guarantees for nuclear power plants, and expanded offshore drilling.

The bill supposedly seeks to reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, the same as the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House last summer. It may handcuff the EPA from imposing its own limits on greenhouse gases, and it may place a tariff on imports from countries that do not have equally stringent emissions rules, in hopes of keeping American products cost-competitive.

The expanded drilling provision — expanded beyond what President Obama already proposed last month (and is currently backing away from) — is the most buzz-worthy provision in the bill right now, for obvious reasons.

But according to Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in a group op-ed in the New York Times Monday, the bill was doomed from the start, and “BP’s big oil spill in the Gulf changes very little.”

On the other hand, Lieberman, the bill’s co-sponsor, said “we’ve got a real shot at this” on Fox News Sunday, which is apparently the place to go when you’ve got really important environmental policy news.

Given the topsy-turvy state of climate politics right now, nothing is surprising anymore.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.