The US climate bill obstacles: The 10 anti-drilling senators, and more

A US climate bill looks ever more complicated, even as it apparently gets closer to being introduced in the Senate.

Senators Joe Lieberman, John Kerry and Lindsey Graham are planning to introduce revised bill in mid-to-late April, after the Easter break, according to reports which emerged after the trio met with oil industry representatives, and Obama administration officials held talks with Senate Democratic committee leaders.

The three senators have been holding numerous meetings in an attempt to win adequate support, but the obstacles still appear vast. Here’s a few:

The 10 anti-drilling Democratic senators

Ten coastal Democratic senators say they will not support a bill that gives “unfettered access to oil and gas drilling”.

Wrangling over this issue could become quite serious. It was never expected that all Democratic senators would vote for a climate bill, but the main focus has been on winning over the southern Democrats from carbon-intensive states. A quick cross-reference of these 10 senators with Nate Silver’s excellent analysis of how a climate bill would need to be won in the Senate shows that seven of the 10 senators opposing oil and gas drilling were counted as ‘nearly certain’ to support a climate bill – the highest certainty assigned by Silver. Of the remaining three, two were ‘extremely likely’, and one was ‘highly likely’. Silver assumed there would be no nay votes from the left, but his analysis, though some nine months old now, is an illuminating look at just how difficult it would be to get to 60 votes even without left opposition.

So it remains to be seen whether the 10 anti-drilling senators can be won over, or offset sufficiently by winning over Republicans and southern Democrats with provisions for job incentives, nuclear support and of course drilling. Big oil companies, incidentally, met with Kerry, Lieberman and Graham yesterday to push for favourable treatment for shale gas and re-iterate their request for expanded oil drilling. Senator Graham “confirmed that the Senate talks are planning to include revenue-sharing for states that agree to offshore oil and gas development”, according to Climatewire.

Cap and trade – dead, again

Graham also confirmed the ‘sectoral approach’ that has been talked about in recent weeks:

“We’re looking at a sectoral approach to replace the cap-and-trade system, which is dead, by the way. There will never be a cap-and-trade bill passed by the United States Senate,” the South Carolina lawmaker told reporters.

On the other hand, we have heard similar assertions before, only to have them contradicted a few days later. President Obama is known to be very supportive of a price on carbon. And..

Reaching the 17% target without a cap

There’s another twist to the ‘death’ of cap-and-trade. Reuters reports Lieberman says there is ‘no alteration‘ of the goal of reducing emissions by 17 per cent by 2020. But any specific target will be difficult to achieve through a mix of sectoral approaches, including taxes and incentives, that lacks a wide-ranging cap on emissions. Taxes put a price on carbon, creating certainty for businesses, but their effect on emissions can vary.

The Republican strategy may not have changed, post-healthcare act

Incidentally, our musing earlier this week that perhaps a more bipartisan approach would be taken by the Republicans appears to be on shakier ground, with the news that conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute has ‘said goodbye‘ to former George W Bush speech writer David Frum. The interpretation by some (Ezra Klein for example) is that this was over Frum’s questioning of the Republican no-compromise stance, which Frum argued had backfired in the case of healthcare.

The Cantwell-Collins-Kerry-Graham-Lieberman tensions

Finally, Senator Graham in an interview with the NY Times also tried to defuse tensions over a competing bill by Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins.

Phew. April will certainly be interesting.

Related links:

Senators outline US utility carbon market for climate bill (Bloomberg)

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