Climate Bill Losing Support on the Left

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As John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) continue to court industry support for a climate and energy bill, the Senate’s left flank is growing increasingly uneasy.

Last week, 10 senators sent a letter to the trio urging them to drop provisions that would expand offshore drilling. Today, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders sent Kerry a letter expressing his “deep disappointment with the direction of the current effort.” While he praises Kerry as a “tireless advocate for taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Sanders says he has “serious concerns about provisions that could harm the environment and provide new federal government support for polluters.”

Sanders is particularly worried about a proposed provision that would nullify existing state programs to limit emissions. Vermont is among those states that have paved the way for national carbon regulations, and the bill would remove the ability of states to set tougher restrictions on carbon dioxide than those passed by the federal government. Sanders describes this as “a huge mistake,” writing that “we should definitely set a floor, but not a ceiling.” He also expresses reservations about new loan guarantees for nuclear power, expanded offshore drilling, and the bill’s likely giveaways to coal. “I do not want to see a global warming bill become an bonanza for the coal industry,” he writes.

Sanders is also worried about what’s not in the outline of the bill that the senators are circulating. In particular, he thinks that their plan doesn’t do enough to promote energy efficiency, develop a renewable energy industry, and provide incentives for green jobs.

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman clearly believe that the industry support is crucial to winning 60 votes for a climate bill this year. But in this effort, they’re neglecting the Senate’s environmental champions. As one Democratic aide told me recently, “They’ve pretty much ignored the whole left wing … They just take everyone for granted.”

Lieberman brushed off such criticisms last week, telling reporters, “In the end this will be one of those cases where everybody will be a little unhappy… But if they’re mostly happy that we’ve done something constructive, it will pass.” Maybe Lieberman’s right. But at the moment, the senators who should be the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for this effort are sitting disgruntled on the sidelines.

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