The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act tries to come to grips with global warming. Nuclear energy can and likely will make a substantial contribution to the effort but the bill is so freighted with implications for so many vested interests (and their supporters) that getting the bill passed in a coherent form will take a titanic amount of will power and resolve.
The Senate in particular may find this a tough hurdle, in part because the November elections could leave the Democrats with a veto-proof majority - an outside chance, certainly, but a chance. That makes stepping carefully into this bill a priority for the Republicans; they already suffer, rather unfairly, as ecological recidivists in a year in which global warming has become a major issue for voters. Conversely, some Democrats (Lieberman is an Independent who caucuses with the Dems) already see President Bush's opposition and a possible filibuster as bill-killers but gets things set up for the next president.
The measure's sponsors believe that getting a majority of senators to back the bill would be a show of strength, laying the groundwork for passage in the next Congress under a new president.
"However far we take it, it is very important to start now," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and has been shepherding the bill through the Senate.
So there is an aura of political theater here, likely also with an eye on the elections. But:
"It seems unlikely that as American families face harsh economic times that any senator would dare stand on the Senate floor and vote in favor of significantly increasing the price of gas at the pump and costing millions of American jobs - all for no environmental gain," said Matt Dempsey, communications director for Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Remember, Sen. Inhofe is the leading global-warming-is-hooey figure in the Senate. Frankly, despite his best efforts, that ice floe has melted (even if his economic argument mirrors that of President Bush; see below). The timing of this bill is going to make global warming even more of an issue in the upcoming presidential election and for all the down-ticket races as well.
How much does President Bush dislike this bill? He has issued a Statement of Administration Policy that lays it all out for you. The main problem is that the bill, in the administration's view, trades an possible ecological disaster for a likely economic one (warning: pdf):
S. 3036 is likely to severely damage the economy and drive jobs overseas. As an example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Energy Information Administration have estimated, respectively, that the bill as reported could reduce U.S. Gross Domestic Product by as much as seven percent (over $2.8 trillion) in 2050, and reduce U.S. manufacturing output by almost 10 percent in 2030 -- before even half of the bill's required reductions have taken effect.
And that's just the tip of that iceberg. Read all of Bush's statement for a lot more in the same vein. In its present state, which of course will be heavily impacted by amendments that might sweeten it, the bill is a non-starter for the White House.
So, noting the name of this blog, what about nuclear energy?
Nuclear power is likely to be one of the thorniest issues in the debate. Republican opponents of the bill are expected to offer amendments to boost nuclear energy, which critics call "poison pill" amendments because they could erode support for the bill among Democrats who oppose an expansion of nuclear power.
We would counter that many Democrats have found a place for nuclear energy in their thinking - this seems a bit 2002 to us - and that the Republicans know Sen. McCain, a supporter of a larger role for nuclear energy, could swing votes towards the bill. We'll see.
Early days. Stay tuned.
Picture of Senator Boxer, courtesy Getty Images.