The Kerry-Lieberman climate bill (KL) was finally introduced last week as the "American Power Act." For the previous 10 months, it was the unicorn of climate bills. When speaking to climate deniers, Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham claimed it wasn't a climate bill, it was an energy bill. If energy was too divisive for the audience, they claimed it was primarily a jobs bill. No one had ever seen it, but supporters knew that it had a nice horn and it could fly (i.e. something for everyone: a carbon cap, subsidies to energy companies, and 60 magic Senate votes). The only problem was that it didn't yet exist.
Unfortunately, K-L's 10 month incubation time effectively closed the window of opportunity for the 59 Senate Democrats. Now there is barely any time left before the midterm elections when everyone gets skittish and has even less guts than normal. K-L's backroom talks played a key role in delaying real action on climate for at least 6 critical months, and distracted the Beltway Green Groups from motivating their members, mounting protests and blockades, putting real pressure on lip-service Senators, and looking at any other alternative bills. President Obama's backseat approach has not helped matters either.
Beltway insiders who considered K-L to be the only "real" climate bill proudly cited the support of Graham and Lieberman. The offshore oil drilling and the subsidies to build new nuclear power plants were obvious concessions to entice Lindsay Graham and other Republicans. But then Graham suddenly dropped his co-sponsorship, supposedly due to the addition of immigration to the Senate's docket.
Graham's "water-down and ditch" maneuver is reminiscent of another climate effort that was derailed in the same way: the Kyoto Protocol. In the lead up to the climate treaty in the late 90's, the Clinton Administration, led by Al Gore, watered down the targets, and forced the EU to agree to focus on market mechanisms rather than regulations. Once all their demands were met, the U.S. refused to ratify the treaty.
Considering that K-L lacks any known Republican support, is it still the only "real" climate bill? As Yoda once told Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back, "There is another": the Cantwell-Collins CLEAR Act. The CLEAR Act has been around since December, but in all the anticipation for KGL, remained a runner up... until now. Now it is the last bill with Republican support standing (thank you, Susan Collins!). Besides being bipartisan, it reduces emissions, gives most of the permit auction revenues back to consumers, invests the rest in clean technologies, and lacks the free allocations, subsidies, and offsets to coal, oil, and nuclear contained in K-L.
The CLEAR Act is gaining support every day, but it still may take an unpredictable "Black swan" event to shift public opinion and that Beltway groupthink away from K-L. Perhaps it will come from the horrific BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill that is currently contaminating the Gulf of Mexico, the source of 40 percent of the seafood sold in the U.S. Perhaps it will come from the recognition that the coal miners killed in that Massey mine accident are just the latest casualties in a war on Appalachia that is impoverishing future generations.
In the meantime, scientists, environmentalists, and climate protection advocates may need to alter their demeanor from polite requests to serious demands. Rather than earnest fact sheets, and asking "Um, would you be so kind as to please stop climate change? No? Okay, sorry for asking," climate activists could take notes from the belligerent Tea Party activists, who have perfected the art of becoming a Congressional pain in the butt. It won't be easy for politically eco-correct, overeducated boomers, yuppies, and Gen X hipsters to change tone, but previous strategies do not seem to be working, the situation is getting worse, and there may not be enough Survivaballs for everyone.