The headline has been written countless times, but this time it is true: carbon cap-and-trade of any sort will not come out of this Congress—and perhaps it never will. Instead of comprehensive economy-wide carbon cap that Senator John Kerry had urged—and that the House had already passed a year ago—or even the compromise utility-only cap bill that had been suggested as an alternative, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that he would move forward next week on a bill that only deals with the BP oil spill and a few other low-profile energy policies. The reason was simple, according to Reid—politics:
It's easy to count to 60. I could do it by the time I was in eighth grade. My point is this, we know where we are. We know we don't have the votes [for a bill capping emissions]. This is a step forward.
That Reid couldn't get a filibuster-beating super-majority to pass climate and energy legislation surely seems to be the case—after all, the Majority Leader can indeed count. But the idea that such an unambitious bill—even after the shock of the oil spill—represents anything but treading water is a joke. According to Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico—who had pushed an earlier compromise energy bill out of his committee—Reid's bill won't include a carbon cap or even a renewable energy standard, which would require utilities to source a certain percentage of their electricity from clean sources. Instead it's likely to contain energy efficiency upgrades for home appliances and measures to push the nation's trucking fleet to use cleaner natural gas. (Something the Texas oil-turned-wind tycoon T. Boone Pickens has been advocating for years, as Bradford Plumer of the New Republic points out—so at least a Texas billionaire who made his money off petroleum is having a good day.) It's possible that the Democrats will be able to put some form of a carbon cap back into the bill after the August recess or even during the lame-duck session following the November elections—but that has about a snowball's chance in midtown Manhattan (after global warming) of coming true.
So what happened? How did a Democratic President who came to office talking up climate change and promising a strong carbon cap, plus a Democratic Senate and House of Representatives, plus the late impetus of the oil spill, somehow come away with barely more than nothing? As a stunned environmental community sifts through the wreckage, they'll find no shortage of perpetrators.