To the surprise of no one, the Senate on Friday failed to pass a bill that would have taken the fight against global warming right to the streets and smokestacks of the United States. With a hostile administration in the White House and a group of entrenched Republican lawmakers who still haven’t grasped the economic reality that failing to slow climate change will ultimately cost the country far more money than combating it, there was little chance of passage this year. Fortunately, though, the political climate is changing as fast as planet Earth’s.
The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, which would have created a cap-and-trade program setting limits on the greenhouse gases that polluters could belch into the atmosphere but allowed them to trade emission credits among themselves to ease the pain, attracted a comfortable majority vote -- 48 to 36. But it needed 60 votes to clear the threat of a filibuster by opponents, and its failure signals that there probably will be no large-scale global warming legislation this year.
The silver lining in the carbon dioxide cloud is that six additional senators sent letters of support for the bill even though they couldn’t be present to vote on it, including all three remaining presidential candidates and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who apparently drafted his letter from his hospital bed. Two sent letters of opposition, which puts the prospective vote at 54 to 38. That’s still not enough to overcome a filibuster or a veto, but it’s far more support than any previous cap-and-trade bill has received. According to environmental groups, 10 senators who opposed similar legislation in 2003 and 2005 changed their minds, and another 10 new to the Senate voted in favor.
Regardless of who wins the November election, our next president will back a cap-and-trade program, eliminating the worry that good legislation in this area will die by veto. Democrat Barack Obama would impose tougher restrictions than Republican John McCain, but the latter is still a national leader on the issue. McCain is one of a small group of GOP officeholders, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who are struggling to drag the party’s environmental agenda into the 21st century. They’ve figured out that global warming is as much an economic issue as an environmental one, and that imposing a price on pollution is the only way to stop it. Other GOP lawmakers may ignore those conclusions, only to pay the price at the ballot box.