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Is Any Sort Of Climate Action Possible This Year?

Eric Pooley's post-mortem of the Lieberman-Warner climate bill ends with a splash of icy water for enviros who believe that some sort of carbon cap is preordained to pass in the next year or two:

When Reid's procedural vote finally came, on Friday morning, 48 Senators voted to move ahead with the debate, and 36 voted against. Boxer was happy to claim that a total of 54 were in favor of moving ahead—because six absent Senators, including Obama, McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Kennedy, had written letters saying they would have voted in favor had they been present.

Fifty-four would have been significant — the first time a majority of Senators voted for climate action. But 48 is the number in the Congressional Record, and it only got that high because 10 moderate Democrats who would have voted against the bill cut a deal with Reid: nine of them voted for the procedural motion to help their party save face, then they published a letter explaining why they didn't support the bill.

Yes, having a president who favors action on climate change will dislodge some roadblocks. But the chances of a major cap-and-trade bill getting out of the Senate next year still look slim, short of a major political upheaval. In the interim, though, Ezra Klein is right that there are a whole potpourri of smaller measures—like feebates for fuel-efficient vehicles—that could do a fair bit to whack down U.S. carbon emissions, but wouldn't be nearly as controversial.

Actually, a lot of states have pursued this strategy: Rather than trying to shoehorn one big emission-capping bill through the legislature, the states have focused on smaller things like tightening building efficiency codes, improving fuel-economy standards for automobiles, or requiring utilities to get a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources. Pass enough of these measures, and pretty soon, they're making decent headway on their emissions target. Mind you, a lot of these intermediate steps—like the renewable portfolio standard—can't even squeak through the current Senate, since the GOP has been filibustering anything with even a light-green tint to it. But surely it's worth chipping away where possible while waiting around for the big cap-and-trade bill or carbon tax to garner enough votes.

--Bradford Plumer