Wednesday, January 20, 2010

He's No Ted Kennedy

Yesterday's election to replace Ted Kennedy in the US Senate sent shock waves through Washington, as Republican Scott Brown defeated the anointed successor Martha Coakley, who, the outcome suggests, must be among the worst campaigners of all time.

I don't know much about either Brown or Coakley, except that the later was far more likely to support two  pieces of legislation currently hanging in the balance: the health-care reform bill and the climate change bill. If I were a betting man (which I'm not), I'd say that because of the outcome of the Massachusetts Senate race, climate policy is dead for 2010 (and maybe longer) and health-care reform is on life-support, now that Republicans have the numbers to prevent cloture on debate.

There are, however, two reasons to hold out hope for climate legislation this year: (1) The Democratic leadership might be able to sweeten the pot sufficiently to attract either or both of Maine's moderate Republic Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to break ranks; (2) the threat of EPA regulation of greenhouse gases is still out there, and some Republican senators might well conclude that the existing legislation proposal is the lesser of two evils. There is currently a movement among Republic lawmakers to remove the threat of EPA regulation by legislative amendment of the Clean Air Act (see here), but such a measure has no hope of passing, given the current composition of Congress.

As I've previously noted, I hope the climate bill passes not because I think it's all that great (at best, it is only marginally better than nothing), but because I think it moves the country in the right direction on climate change for the first time in more than a decade. My hope is that, if enacted, it would be improved by amendments over the next several years. It would not be a disaster, however, if it is not enacted at this point. A bigger disaster would be if the cap-and-trade provisions were excised from the bill, leaving only the subsidies for renewable energy production.

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