Politico's Coral Davenport reports today that Jeff Bingaman may replace John Kerry as the new point person on a Senate energy bill. When we last checked in, a bunch of other senators were griping that they were annoyed by Kerry's obsession with averting a major climate catastrophe. Presumably the far more low-key Bingaman won't offend their delicate sensibilities.

But on a substantive note, this could signal a real shift in the Senate's energy ambitions. Last week, Senate Democrats caucused together and—as Dave Roberts reported—seemed to rally around a strategy for binding a price on carbon to various Gulf-related bills and then daring the GOP to block the whole thing. It was a go-for-broke move. And who knows? It might've worked. But lately, Bingaman's been insisting that it's "difficult" to envision a cap on carbon pollution getting 60 votes. That's not the sort of thing you say when you're preparing for a showdown.

Instead, Bingaman's cobbling together a more modest bill that would only cap pollution from electric utilities (see here for the merits of that approach). He also has an energy bill that passed out of his committee last fall that would offer subsidies to various alternative-energy industries and force utilities to buy (a very modest amount) of renewable power. Combine all those together and you have a fairly weak bill that wouldn't do nearly enough to put a dent in greenhouse gases and stop global warming. And could this bill even get 60 votes? Joe Lieberman recently told reporters that some Republicans have "promised to keep talking" about a utility-only cap. What are the odds those unnamed Republicans stick around when it finally comes time to take a vote?

Update: And now Bingaman's sounding dubious about even a utility-only cap.

(Flickr photo credit: Andrew Gascho)