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Will We Get Meaningful Climate Legislation? Chances Aren't Looking Good

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This story originally appeared on the Washington Monthly.

With timing running out, the chances of passing a comprehensive energy/climate bill this year have all but disappeared. The odds were long before, but after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) walked away from the legislation he helped right, this rare opportunity to pass landmark legislation seems to have slipped away. Barring an unexpected miracle, the question now becomes whether anything can be done on this issue.

There are still hopes that an energy bill can pass the Senate this year -- but it'll aim low.

The Senate sponsors of a sweeping climate change bill are drafting a scaled-back version focused on electric power plants in a bid to salvage a role for greenhouse gas curbs in the Senate energy debate.

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) this week will start circulating a draft of their narrowed plan as they try to convince Democratic leaders to include a carbon pricing component in a broad energy package that may hit the Senate floor next week.

"I am very optimistic that we can pass something here that deals with energy and gets us started in the right direction," Kerry said Monday. "If that's the best we can do, that's the best we can do."

The "utilities only" approach to carbon emissions started catching on as a possible compromise about a month ago, though several Republicans have said any attempts to limit carbon emissions by any amount, at any time, in any sector of the economy, will necessarily draw GOP opposition.

And while the "utilities only" compromise would be a modest step in the right direction when we need a significant one, Andrew Restuccia reports we may not even see this scaled-back measure make the final bill.

A senior Senate source told TWI earlier today that a final energy bill is expected to include an oil spill response package and a renewable electricity standard, but not a cap on carbon, even a utility-only cap.

The source and an additional environmentalist source, both of whom asked for anonymity to discuss the sensitive issues surrounding the debate, said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and her staff are working with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and his staff on a compromise energy bill, though the details remain unclear.

I know I've emphasized this several times, but it's important to remember that this effort is probably the last chance policymakers will have to combat global warming in many years. With Republicans expected to make significant gains in November, the earliest a meaningful climate bill could be considered would be 2013, and perhaps not even then.

The climate crisis, in the meantime, grows more serious -- and has no regard for political misjudgments.