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Kicking Off The Senate Climate Debate...

Health care and the public option are still hogging all the headlines, but this week is also the week that the climate debate officially dashes off the starting blocks in the Senate. From Tuesday through Thursday, the Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee will hold hearings on the Kerry-Boxer climate bill, with witnesses including pretty much everyone even tangentially involved in this issue: from administration officials to utility executives to military leaders to energy wonks… (You can see each day's schedule here, here, and here.)

For those wondering what the months ahead will bring, the rough schedule will go like this: EPW holds hearings on the bill, EPW marks up the bill, EPW passes the bill. (Democrats hold a 12-7 edge on the committee, so they can easily approve whatever they feel like approving—the main question is whether they'll report out a fairly liberal bill, to move the goalposts of the overall debate leftward, or try to craft a bill that can appeal to moderate Dems and Republicans.) After that, the climate portions of the bill need to be stitched up with legislation on efficiency/renewables/transmission that the Energy Committee passed back in June, and then the Finance, Agriculture, Commerce, and Foreign Relations committees all get a crack at the bill. Realistically, the sucker probably won't hit the Senate floor until December or January—if that. A lot depends on health care getting done first.

So this will drag on for quite some time. There are still, after all, a staggering number of questions senators will want to hash out (and which we've examined in sometimes excruciating detail over the last few months—hence the epidemic of links that's about to drop): How much is a cap on carbon going to cost? How much will failing to cap carbon cost? What sorts of benefits will a green economy bring? Who gets the carbon permits? Which industries will benefit and which industries will suffer? What role will nuclear power play? What about coal? Can we find a substitute for oil-powered cars? How stringently do we need to slash our carbon pollution to reduce our chances of planetary meltdown? (There are, sadly, no sure things in climate policy—it's all about managing risk.) And I'm sure there are hundreds more…