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The Senate turns to global warming


Health-care reform is sucking up a lot of oxygen lately, and what attention is going to global warming is directed at Copenhagen, but there have also been some big developments in the Senate's efforts to agree on an approach to climate change. Brad Plumer explains:

Yesterday, John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman unveiled an outline of their "tri-partisan" climate legislation. You can see the rough framework here. As expected, it's similar to the House climate bill, only with more subsidies for coal, nuclear and offshore drilling. Given that Graham, a conservative Republican, seems fairly committed to hammering out a deal, most of the Senate momentum is behind this bill right now. At a news conference, Lieberman said, "there are well over 60 votes in play in the Senate — not that we have 60 votes yet."

But it's also not the only bipartisan bill in town anymore: This morning, Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell and Maine Republican Susan Collins introduced their own legislation, a concept known as "cap-and-dividend." In this system, pollution permits would be auctioned off to upstream fuel producers (oil wells, gas fields) and the proceeds would be largely rebated back to consumers (families would receive monthly checks that would average about $1,100 a year). You can read a fuller explanation of that bill here. It doesn't have the support that Kerry-Graham-Lieberman has, but it does have some interesting backers, including ExxonMobil and lefty green groups such as Friends of the Earth. The decisive question, though, is what coal-state senators think of the dividend approach — they've long pushed for permit giveaways in cap-and-trade because they're worried that their states will be disproportionately affected; if they won't stand for a full auction, it's hard to see this bill getting very far.

Photo credit: By Alex Wong/Getty Images

By Ezra Klein  |  December 11, 2009; 2:16 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Extractive industries* don't generate prosperity in the communities where they exist. West Virginia is one of the most coal rich areas of the planet. It's been mining coal for 200 years during 2 centuries of massive technological and economic growth. The result? Today West Virginia is ranked 49th of 50 states in median household income, and in the lowest quintile in both math and reading. If I'm WV I'm rooting for disproportionate effects from a cap-and-dividend bill because the direct effect of have an extractive industry in their community has been to make themselves poorer and less educated than just about all of their countrymen.

*except in Norway but they do things a bit differently there

Posted by: jamusco | December 11, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Any notion of why ExxonMobil has backed the Cantwell-Collins version? Does it have a higher cap or something? Boy does it give me the heebie jeebies to agree with ExxonMobil on anything.

Posted by: JonathanTE | December 11, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

"Global warming." Ezra, you've got to start saying "climate change." It's becoming impossible to explain the significance of *average* global temperatures and increasing weather *volatility* to Conservadroids.

This is a shade of the classic progressives problem with nuance. People aren't stupid, but climate change deniers are devious. Time to stop letting them using "warming" as a punchline.

Posted by: hightonedeli | December 11, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I think ExxonMobil's position is that a carbon tax is less likely to be gamed by special interests than a cap and trade scheme. If Waxman Markey is any indication, they may be right.

Posted by: tl_houston | December 11, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Cantwell is more likely to actually be serious about working out a deal, no?

The absolute worst way this could go would be another Chuck Grassley situation.

Posted by: NS12345 | December 12, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Er, Collins I mean

Posted by: NS12345 | December 12, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

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