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Reading the Senate's Storm Clouds

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorApril 2, 2009 5:02 PM


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You don't need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing in the Senate on cap-and-trade legislation. Yesterday, after several revealing votes showed just how tough it will be to pass a meaningful climate change bill in Congress, Olympia Snowe, the Republican moderate from Maine, said this to Politico:

It's a complicated issue to tackle at a time when the economy is weak.

Just how complicated? An amendment introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) would

require that such [climate change] legislation does not increase electricity or gasoline prices.

As Politico reports, "Thune's measure won 89-8, even though it appeared to contradict the whole purpose of most cap-and trade schemes." "Appeared to" is putting it mildly. Roger Pielke, Jr., over at Prometheus, accurately captures the vote's meaning:

What is this? Climate change legislation cannot increase electricity or gasoline prices? The entire purpose of cap and trade is in fact to increase the costs of carbon-emitting sources of energy, which dominate US energy consumption. The Thune Amendment thus undercuts the entire purpose of cap and trade.

It's interesting to note the disparity of interpretations offered in the wake of yesterday's congressional debate and votes on cap-and-trade legislation. Grist's take is that everything was a kabuki dance, "more political posturing than anything else, and in the end...won't have much bearing on what a cap-and-trade plan in the Senate looks like." Perhaps then this statement by California democrat Barbara Boxer is a more accurate reading of what that plan will look like?

Any kind of cap-and-trade system that comes forward will not raise energy and gas prices.

Roger Pielke, Jr., takes Boxer at her word and predicts:

The Thune Amendment effectively kills cap and trade as a mechanism for reducing emissions. I have little doubt that the legislation will go forward, and it likely will pass in some form and do many things. Its just that reducing emissions won't be among them. Cap and trade is dead but the charade will go on.

Is Grist underplaying the significance of yesterday's climate change manuevering in the Senate? Is Pielke Jr. too quick to declare the time of death for meaningful legislation? I think we'll know soon enough who's got the better read.

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