Moderate Dems: Climate Change Bill in 2010? Fuggedaboutit

It’s no secret that conservative Democrats from coal, oil, and manufacturing states have long been wary about capping greenhouse gas emissions, but in the wake of the health care slog, they’re letting their leadership and the White House know they want cap-and-trade off the table in 2010. Stand-alone energy legislation might stand a chance, but nothing nearly as ambitious as a bill the House passed in July to create an economy wide market for global warming emissions.

And there’s at least some signs leadership is listening.

“At this point I’d like to see a complete bill but we have to be realistic,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said last week.

If the Senate fails to act on climate change this Congress, all of the House’s hard work will be swept into the dustbin, and Democrats will have to start largely from scratch in 2011.During the presidential campaign, but before the economy took a steep downturn, President Obama repeatedly insisted that addressing the threat of climate change was his top domestic priority. But it’s likely impossible that he and Senate leadership will be able to keep the Democratic party united to stop a filibuster of cap-and-trade legislation, which means Democrats will have to secure the support of a handful of moderate Republicans–nuclear energy enthusiasts, in particular–if they hope to pass a meaningful bill.

That’s what Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) hopes to accomplish. He’s working with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to create legislation that can win the support of enough Republicans to overcome any number of procedural hurdles. But the trio isn’t speaking in particularly confident terms.

“I can’t tell you the method or the means or amount by which we might price carbon,” Kerry told reporters during climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen.

And, as Lieberman implies, Democrats will have to be prepared to offer a host of other concessions. “I don’t think the Senate has an appetite for another such epic, polarized legislative war this session,” he said.

It’s certain to be a tough haul. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who will get to take a crack at climate legislation as chairman of the Finance Committee, has said recently that the Senate will pass legislation this year. But it’s still unclear whether he’s correct, and, if he is, whether a bill that can pass the Senate will be able to lower U.S. emissions to the level climate scientists insist it must.

And with health care still on the table, and vulnerable and conservative Democrats hesitant to take another difficult vote ahead of the 2010 elections, there’s more than enough reason for pessimism.

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