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A US Climate Bill in 2010

March 3, 2010

Lindsay Graham, of the Graham-Lieberman-Kerry tri-partisan US Senate climate bill drafting trio, is an interesting cat. He is courageously trying to get his party – the GOP – to support a major climate bill that prices carbon in 2010. 

Time is obviously running very short, with even Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid saying that it needs to come out ASAP to have a chance. According to Al Gore, that is what they are planning to do later this week, just before the Spring recess.

It has been reported already that a comprehensive cap-and-trade bill is not the answer politically: instead some hybrid approach is reportedly being prefered by the trio.

This contradicts the all-too-implict argument for delaying action which The Australian managed to extract out of the same news two days ago. It ran it under the title “Obama cap-and-trade scheme faces defeat” and did its best dishonest effort to side-stepp the basic fact that Graham was proposing a partial cap-and-trade scheme on electricity, phased-in for industry, but with other forms of carbon pricing for other sectors. In other words that it was still a plan, just like the CPRS, to price carbon emissions

The Australian’s article also failed to mention that this is largely not the result of sound economics (different carbon prices for the same good – i.e. emissions – in the one economy? Taxes AND cap-trade? Why should electricity generators pay to emit but not industry if every marginal tonne of emissions does the same damage to the environment?) but rather was preferred since it has the best chances of appeasing the different and inconsistent preferences of everyone in the US Senate.

To really see how biased the Australian’s take on the story was, see someone who reported the exact same event in a less partisan and biased way: see Thomas L. Friedman’s article in the New York Times.  

If any meaningful and durable process is going to be made on reducing US emissions of GHGs, the Republican party is going to have to be supportive.   Especially when they are expected to pick up more Senate seats in November’s elections.

This raises the question then, of how to convince a Republican to take carbon pricing seriously.  The Friedman Article quotes Graham’s approach. Which is insightful and instructive, if cringeworthy from an environmentalists perspective.

There are four stand-out insights from Graham for me:

1. Graham: “I have been to enough college campuses to know if you are 30 or younger this climate issue is not a debate. It’s a value. These young people grew up with recycling and a sensitivity to the environment — and the world will be better off for it. They are not brainwashed. … From a Republican point of view, we should buy into it and embrace it and not belittle them.”

2. Graham’s approach to bringing around his conservative state has been simple: avoid talking about “climate change,” which many on the right don’t believe. Instead, frame our energy challenge as a need to “clean up carbon pollution,” to “become energy independent” and to “create more good jobs and new industries for [his consituency].”

“We are more dependent on foreign oil today than after 9/11. That is political malpractice, and every member of Congress is responsible.”

3. What would most help him bring around his G.O.P. colleagues? The business lobby. “The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers need to tell my colleagues it is O.K. to price carbon, if you do it smartly,” he says.

4. “We’ve got to get started,” he says, “because once we do, every C.E.O. will adopt a carbon strategy, no matter what the law actually requires.”

Five Republicans like him who break with the current ‘block-everything’ strategy in the Senate and we might still just get a meaningful climate bill this year. It’s optimistic, but not impossible, get it, The Australian?

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