Senators tiptoe on climate deals
March 16, 2010
Posted by: David Lungren David_Lungren@epw.senate.gov
Senators tiptoe on climate deals
By: Lisa Lerer
March 16, 2010 05:03 AM EDT
Senators working on a major climate bill have a near impossible task: how to cut deals without looking like they're cutting deals.
Such is the toxic legislating environment in wake of the so-called Cornhusker Kickback on health care - even mild legislative compromises designed to attract votes are now under much greater scrutiny, as lawmakers fear political repercussions from anything perceived as a side deal.
So very carefully, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have been conducting climate bill negotiations across the Senate, hoping to make a few palatable deals that will get them to 60 votes.
And Republicans are set to pounce on anything that looks like a special set-aside for a state or an industry. That means Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich's request for help with melting glaciers or West Virginia Democratic Sen. John Rockefeller's wish for carbon capture subsidies for coal plants could be fodder for political opponents.
"That's one of the things that sank the health care bill," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). "It wasn't just the policy; it was the unseemliness of the various deals."
Democrats have grown increasingly sensitive about what kind of "deals" it might take to get a climate change bill passed this year.
"That's such an offensive question; it's just offensive," said Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, after being asked what she would "need" to see to support a climate bill during a hallway encounter in the Capitol. "It's not what I need; it's what I believe what the people that I represent believe."
Landrieu came under intense fire when she agreed to back the health care bill after securing $100 million in extra federal money for her home state.
Lawmakers stress that the climate negotiations don't involve the type of narrowly tailored, transactional provisions that got Democrats into so much trouble during the health care debate.
But the potential for danger is there, given that regional deals appear to be the only way to pass a climate bill. The House cap-and-trade bill, for example, passed only after House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) cut deals with groups of coal-, oil- and manufacturing-state Democrats.
And in the Senate, negotiators have dropped an economywide cap-and-trade system in favor of a more specific sector-by-sector approach to the bill designed to satisfy industry and members from different regions of the country.
"All states aren't created equal when it comes to energy sources, so it's going to have to be a varied bill just by the nature of the problem," said Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a coal-state Democrat who says the climate bill is "apples to oranges" compared with the health care bill.
While none of these negotiations amount to a direct kickback, several key swing voters in the Senate are pushing items that would disproportionately benefit their home states.
Begich said he's "aggressively" pushing for tens of billions of dollars to help his state cope with melting sea ice, eroding coastal villages, shrinking permafrost and other devastating effects of climate change.
"There's no state that is affected like us, and for that not to be addressed will be a significant problem for me," he said.
Begich's Alaska colleague, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, is pushing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to domestic oil exploration - a nonstarter with many Democrats. Opening up ANWR would eventually deliver a lucrative new stream of oil revenue to Alaskans, but Murkowski stresses that it would also help the entire country. And it could lure Republican votes.
"ANWR is not just for Alaska," she said. "ANWR is a national piece that speaks to how we can do more domestically with our oil resource."
Rockefeller wants $20 billion for carbon capture and sequestration, technology aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. His home state is one of the top coal mining regions in the world.
To get his support, Rockefeller says the bill has to give "West Virginia a chance to survive."
Landrieu is pushing to include expanded offshore drilling in the climate bill, a provision she says would decrease dependence on foreign oil. It would also provide a significant financial boost for Louisiana and three other coastal states that collect more than a third of the federal revenues from the drilling.
And earlier this month, Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin asked Kerry to include a binding national standard for emissions from mobile sources of pollution - a provision that would give business certainty to struggling automakers in his home state.
Levin and more than 10 other manufacturing-state Democrats also want a series of provisions designed to protect fossil-fuel-intensive industries like paper, aluminum and steel from foreign competition.
They've vowed to oppose any bill that does not include a "border adjustment" allowing for tariffs or other actions to be placed on high-carbon goods from foreign countries, such as China, that don't have strong climate policies.
Lieberman, another top Senate negotiator, says he's open to working with all members - even if it involves considering proposals he opposed in the past.
"We're talking to everybody who hasn't decided," he said. "We have got to start with a solution, so I've been willing to accept things that I would not have accepted in earlier years."
Still, the bill is expected to be a heavy lift. A handful of Democrats still disagree completely with the push to pass a climate bill - even a revamped version - this year. North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan wants to pass a version of the energy-only bill that passed the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June. Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, one of the Senate's most vulnerable members, touted her opposition to the cap-and-trade bill in her first campaign ad.
And a few members are still holding out until they see whether they get what they want in a final bill.
"They keep saying it's in there, but I never see it," Rockefeller said of his $20 billion request. "Concepts are aplenty around here - language is what you need."