Progress on Climate Bill is Still Possible

With all the many challenges now facing the effort to pass climate and energy legislation in the Senate, some observers say that passing a bill this year is impossible. This is definitely not the case.

We know that Senator Graham will not move forward with a climate and energy bill unless President Obama and Senator Reid send a clear signal that they will not press immigration reform this year. And we also know that immigration reform is important to many Senators (and their chances for re-election), which makes them unwilling to de-prioritize it.

But although the process has temporarily stalled, three things can get it back on track.

First, President Obama needs to state, in no uncertain terms, that he plans to focus on climate and energy this year. This is not about choosing between energy and immigration. The fact is that currently there is no immigration bill, and drafting one with a chance for bi-partisan support will take months, as it did with the climate and energy bill. The climate and energy bill is ready now. The only challenge for Obama is to communicate that he will focus on energy, without seeming to ignore immigration. For the man with a gift for finding the middle ground in every dispute - this should be a light lift.

Second, Senator Graham needs to return to the negotiating table - ideally with a friend or two. There is a lot in the new climate and energy bill for moderate Republicans and Democrats to like. It goes to great lengths to make the transition easier for large industry - which Midwestern Democrats have pushed for. It includes significant incentives for the creation of new nuclear power plants - which Republicans have been calling for for years. And it would return government revenues back to consumers - which fiscal conservatives on both sides of the aisle should be able to get behind. The bill is far from perfect, but it should be able to secure broad support once it is given top priority.

Third, the business community needs to make its voice heard now, more than ever before. What all businesses can agree on is the need for policy certainty. If this effort fails, the carbon question in the US will remain unanswered for the indefinite future. If it succeeds, businesses will have the signal that they have been asking for, allowing them to unleash a wave of new investment into domestic clean energy technologies, and create new US industries and US jobs. What's needed most now is for business to engage in meaningful ways - going beyond rigid demands to provide policymakers with creative solutions that will help chart a path forward.

The stakes are high - both for our economy and our leadership across the globe. Senator Kerry has called this effort "the last, best shot" for passing comprehensive energy policy - and he is probably right. If we really hope to become more energy efficient, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and compete in the clean energy revolution that is taking place around the world - we need to find a way through this current impasse.

It won't be easy. But it is possible.

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