Will Lindsey Graham Kill the Climate Bill?

>While the health care vote is predicted to spark everything from a midterm election shake-up to a one-term Obama presidency, one of its most immediate legislative casualties may be the Senate climate bill. Currently carried on the backs of Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham, this bill has recently been gaining momentum. During a series of briefings last week, the senators released details that appealed to both parties as well as to environmental and business groups -- a surprisingly bipartisan approach to such a divisive issue.

And then came health care. On Sunday, the House approved the Senate's health care reform bill with zero Republican votes -- a move that Graham had warned against, saying it would "poison the well for anything else they would like to achieve this year or thereafter." This veiled threat worries many proponents of the climate bill Graham is crafting with Lieberman and Kerry, though David Roberts at Grist speculates that, at this point, Graham is too invested in the legislation to walk away.

Lieberman and Kerry should hope this is the case, since the future of their bill rests largely on Graham's shoulders. Scott Brown's election has eliminated the possibility of a party-line vote moving legislation forward in the Senate. This was never much of a possibility on the climate front anyway, given that Senate support for greenhouse gas caps is determined less by party allegiance and more by coal, oil, and manufacturing constituencies in each state. Graham's leadership will be central to convincing Republicans to set aside lingering health-care animosity in support of a bill that really does play to both sides of the aisle -- that is, as long as Graham is able to set aside his own animosity.

Though the bill has not been released in full, the details garnered from briefings with lawmakers, industry leaders, and environmental groups reveal the influence Graham has already wielded in making the bill more attractive to Republicans:

1. Scaled-back cap-and-trade. The Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill would forgo an economy-wide cap-and-trade system in favor of a more limited scheme imposed on electric utilities to start and then gradually phased to include factories. U.S. power companies would initially receive free pollution permits, an approach many environmentalists worry will undermine a cap-and-trade system that might not be broad enough to sustainably rein in emissions in the first place.

2. Concessions to coal. West Virginia Senator John Rockefeller has made clear that his vote is contingent upon billions of dollars in funding for carbon capture and sequestration technology to cultivate "clean coal." Not surprisingly, his demands are likely to be granted.

3. Offshore drilling incentives. This one is mandatory for securing the votes of some coastal state senators, but Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham are sweetening the deal by sharing drilling revenue with states.

4. A weakened EPA. If passed, the bill would pre-empt EPA regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Both Rockefeller, a Democrat, and fellow Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, have been waging a campaign to shoot down such regulations.  

Thumbnail photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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