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Congress. Energy. It's A Brawl!

Sadly, I haven't been following the waltz steps in Congress over energy and climate legislation as carefully as I probably should be of late, but here are three fairly recent developments that are very much worth tracking.

First up, Kevin Drum notes that Jeff Bingaman, who chairs the Senate's energy committee, is prepared to cave on the idea of auctioning off 100 percent of the pollution permits in any cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases. I've prattled on at snooze-inducing length about why auctioning permits (rather than handing them out to companies for free) makes for a better cap set-up. Nickel version: Fossil-fuel prices will rise either way, but with an auction, the government can mitigate the pain by rebating the revenue it raises back to consumers or by spending on stuff like efficiency upgrades that can help lower energy bills. (Polluters, of course, would rather not pay for the initial permits—that's mainly why they've dispatched all those lobbyists to the Capitol.)

Second, recall that the cap-and-trade proposal in Obama's budget outline would auction off all of the CO2 permits, rebate about 85 percent of the money raised back to Americans as a tax rebate, and invest the rest in clean-energy development. Structurally, this is pretty similar to, say, the much-loved idea of raising carbon taxes and cutting payroll taxes by an equal amount. But a number of Republicans, like Judd Gregg and Bob Corker, who usually profess love for the latter idea are now bashing the Obama plan, calling it a non-starter. Really? The major differences between their preferred alternatives and Obama's plan seem pretty minor. 

Lastly, as mentioned before, Congress will take up at least three major energy measures this year: a bill to upgrade the national electric grid; a bill to mandate that all utilities nationwide get a certain percentage of their electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, etc.; and the cap-and-trade bill for carbon emissions. But it turns out that some House Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, want to fold all of these provisions into one big behemoth of a bill. And a few Senate Democrats fear disaster—far better, they say, to divide and conquer with multiple smaller bills. Elana Schor has the gritty rundown. Bonus audacity points go to Barbara Boxer, who wants to shove everything through the reconciliation process, so that Republicans can't filibuster it.

--Bradford Plumer