The Kerry-Graham Bill?

Last week, the energy and environment nerdosphere went into a swoon with the publication of a join op-ed in the New York Times by Senators Kerry (D-Ma), and Graham (R-SC), outlining a bipartisan approach to a comprehensive climate change bill in the US Senate.  What was surprising about this is that until now, very few Republicans (even John McCain who originally championed comprehensive climate change law) have indicated any willingness to sponsor or be a part of federal climate change bills.  (Though it would only take one or two to avoid a filibuster on the measure).  The fact that the Republican Lindsey Graham was the Senator is even more of a surprise.  Even though he has indicated his belief in the science of human induced climate change, he represents a state that is quite conservative with a vocal climate change skeptic group.

So, does the Graham-Kerry approach represent a new day on the probability of passing climate change legislation?  Possibly.  Just the gathering of a couple of more votes ensures passage in the Senate and this might be the way, though Senators Murkowski (R-Ak), Gregg (R-NH), and McCain (R-Az), three of the most likely Senate Republican votes (along with Graham, Snowe, and Collins), remain publicly skeptical.

What does the compromise look like?  Basically, it calls for increasing support for nuclear power and for offshore drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts (enhanced drilling in offshore Alaska might play into this but is much more controversial).

As a climate change package, this looks half right.  Increasing nuclear power does offset base electric load from coal fired plants with no greenhouse gases.  Whether you like or don’t like nuclear, it remains an important component of climate change control (at least in the short and mid-term).  The environmental problems with it, most notably what to do with the waste. remain significant.  (Though reprocessing remains viable, as the French do, this seems to run up against the politics of terrorism).

Increasing offshore oil drilling may make some sense as an energy security measure (though the impact of this small amount compared to world supply is debatable), but makes no sense in the climate change realm.

Thus, what we have is a good old fashioned polticial compromise.  We pass some kind of an “energy” bill (even though we as a nation have never fully agreed on energy policy tradeoffs between energy security, environmental effects, and cost), which is what Kerry and Boxer dressed up the climate change bill as, and we get comprehensive climate change control.  Every political belief gets to find something to support.

Will it really go through?  I don’t know.  It is likelier that there would be more nuclear support than increasing offshore drilling, though a particularly tailored offshore drilling bill that makes actual drilling unlikely might pass.

But the fact that it happened at all signals that some of the Senators at least realize that this is so important, that they are overlooking prior personality and political differences to try and make some progress…and that my friends, is enough to get the nerdosphere going.

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