Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act Released, Will It Pass?

Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico April 29th View [detail]

The BP oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, will it make or brake the Kerry — Lieberman bill?

Had it all gone according to plan it should have read the “Kerry-Lieberman-Graham American Power act.” But (for now)?Senator Graham (R-S.C.) will not attach his name to what could become a historic law. Nearly a year after a slim majority passed the House, American Energy and Security Act, the Senate will try to pass its own version of a climate change and energy bill. If approved, the Kerry-Lieberman legislation, which was released today, could significantly transform the U.S. economy by, for the first time, putting a price on carbon — for a summary of the bill and its provisions, see this article.

But for that to happen the legislation first has to clear the Senate and that’s going to be a difficult task. Support for Kerry-Lieberman is slim and many observers doubt that, strip of Graham’s support, it can muster the 60 votes it needs to pass.? Healthcare was hard enough but climate change and its controversial cap-and-trade provision could be more difficult. Republicans largely oppose the bill but so do a swath of Democratic lawmakers, representing CO2-dependent states. Also, as a political play Kerry-Lieberman, for Republicans, is another opportunity to derail one of President Obama’s signature policy goals.

Until a few weeks ago the Kerry-Lieberman- (Graham) legislation seemed on cruise control. Sure, it had its detractors but the three Senators had worked hard to build a big tent coalition of environmentalists and industry groups. With Graham on board, there was even a chance of getting a couple of Republican votes. But then Arizona stepped in and immigration became the issue of the day for the White House. For Graham, who had used a lot of political capital supporting the bill, that was too much. He walked out, telling the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein that it would be difficult for the bill to get 60 votes without him on board.

Kerry is willing to take a gamble. Mid-term elections are just around the corner and it would be impossible to get a climate change bill passed were Republicans to retake the Senate or House. It will be even more difficult to get a bill passed ahead of the 2012 presidential campaign. On Grist Kerry wrote: “we’re going full steam ahead because, in my judgment, this may be the last and certainly the best chance for the Senate to act.”

What about a “BP effect?”? Could?the estimated 1 million gallons of crude currently pouring into the Gulf everyday spur some “green conversions” and push some recalcitrant Senators to get behind the legislation. “The BP oil disaster is a signal flare warning us that we must reduce our oil use via investments in more efficient, cleaner energy technologies,” writes Dan Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress. He says the bill is far from perfect but it is a first step in cutting the country’s dependence on carbon-based energy.

Unlike Weiss, Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the legislation’s offshore drilling?provisions, which just a couple of weeks ago were carrots swayed at Senators with “relatively little interest in actual climate change issues,” are now its Achilles heel.? “I have a hard time seeing how you can line up the votes for a bill like this in the near-term, he explained in a recent CFR podcast.? Levi adds: “Particularly, if you have not only this incident as something that one can look on and assess the damages of but if you have this as a continuing incident with oil continuing to pour into the Gulf. That’s not a backdrop against which you can pass a bill that expands drilling.”

Image: Nasa Goddard / Flickr

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