Will ‘asymmetry’ in US energy politics thwart world climate goals?

Even while the Gulf oil disaster might be concentrating minds on the risks of fossil fuels, US Congress is now looking more unlikely ever to pass an effective climate bill.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who until recently was a key supporter of the Boxer-Kerry cap-and-trade climate bill, on Wednesday threw his support behind a bill proposed by Richard Lugar, another Republican Senator, which has plenty of incentives and some regulations, but no financial mechanism for reducing  emissions.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says analysis of the outline of the Lugar bill suggests it would only reduce emissions by 9 per cent; far short of the amount expected of the US in international climate negotiations. And a failure by the US to set adequate emissions targets means that the key developing countries are unlikely to come to the table either.

[If you're wondering what the story is behind Graham's change of heart, try here, but don't expect much.]

Meanwhile another setback for climate efforts — albeit somewhat more symbolic one — is looming in the Senate.  The Senate is today expected to vote on Lisa Murkowski’s proposed amendment to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

Few are keen on the idea of the EPA doing this. Too cumbersome, too costly. But having that threat was seen as a good way of motivating politicians and industry to support a more flexible and practical cap-and-trade system.

So to get rid of it would send a very bad message. That probably won’t happen; it’s still thought unlikely to pass both the House and the Senate and President Obama said he would veto it. The bill has three Democrats sponsors already, and yesterday another — Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia — announced he will vote for the resolution, but Murkowski remains nine votes short of a simple majority of 51. But Ezra Klein of the Washington Post believes that 51 votes is possible. As Klein explains, it highlights the ‘assymetry in energy politics’:

And it may well get 51 votes. Jay Rockefeller, for instance, represents the coal capital that is West Virginia and has announced that he’ll vote for the bill. He’s part of the asymmetry in energy politics where states that are adversely affected are very aggressive in opposing action while politicians from states that would likely benefit from a move toward clean energy — think the Southwest — aren’t similarly parochial.

And that would compare poorly with the efforts on the climate bill, he writes — and show that the Senate is more united on blocking climate regulations than on introducing them.

Related links:

US climate legislation could be buried for a generation - FT Energy Source

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