After days of meetings, Democrats have the outline of a strategy to pass energy legislation. It's not new, and it's not very pretty, but it's all they've got. It's a four-part bill whose main goal is a measure that would reduce emissions by 12 billion metric tons by 2030.

The basic mechanism that Democrats are focusing on right now is a cap-and-trade system that targets utilities and exempts other producers of CO2. Sen. John Kerry has the implicit backing of the White House to work with industry and Republicans to try to reach 60 votes. That means that the cap might be less tight -- just how loose it gets is a matter of negotiation; it's all about the measurement of metric tonnage of CO2.

A clean energy portfolio standard seems DOA in the Senate because Democrats see it as a fig leaf for Republican inaction. Some Democrats, like Majority Leader Harry Reid, believe it favors nuclear power at the expense of promoting other renewables. Even if it were to work somehow, it's not something that could get done in the relatively short legislative window that Democrats have. Folks have been working on the formula for years because it involves balancing so many energy interests. It will take a long time. Finally, it does nothing to solve the EPA preemption issue. You can't hold back EPA without guaranteed carbon reductions; and you only get guaranteed reductions with a cap.

Tomorrow, Reid will meet with relevant committee chairs.

The complications/questions:

1. Some Democrats -- Senators Rockefeller and Lincoln -- are objecting on principle to do a global warming bill.

2. Will Max Baucus play ball?

3. How publicly will President Obama and the White House drive efforts to get a deal? The more under the radar these efforts are, the weaker prospect for success.

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