Nukes, Coal and the National Security Argument

Last Updated Sep 10, 2009 1:47 PM EDT

When the standard let's-save-the-environment argument failed to motivate Congress members to pick up the climate change legislation flag, advocates turned to the economy and job creation.

Now a bipartisan group of former Congressmen and U.S. foreign policy leaders -- with resumes tough to ignore -- is pushing climate change legislation as a national security issue.

The Partnership for a Secure America took out an ad in Politico this week declaring its national security message. The group, started in 2005 by former Congressmen Lee Hamilton, D-IN, and Warren Rudman, R-NH, boasts an impressive advisory board that includes former secretary of state Warren Christopher, former secretary of defense William Perry and former national security advisor Robert McFarlane.

Their message? The U.S. must lead the charge to combat climate change by crafting a bipartisan plan to help avoid humanitarian disasters and political instability that could threaten the security of the nation and its allies.

But what will it take to get the Senate -- or at least 60 Senators needed for cloture -- to pass such legislation?

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I- Conn., laid it out during the PSA's climate change event this week. The bill needs more support for nuclear energy, clean coal and subsidies for consumers, especially those living in states heavily reliant on coal to produce electricity.

"This issue divides not only along partisan lines, but regional lines and state lines depending on economics and probably the number one concern is about coal," Lieberman said during the PSA event.

Lieberman pointed to Indiana, which receives 95 percent of its electricity from burning coal, and predicted senators there would not vote for a bill if they think it will push energy costs up significantly.

The House version, which passed earlier this summer, already provides a number of free allowances or credits to the coal industry in an effort to lower the cost of reducing its emissions. But Lieberman and several other senators are pushing for more revenue generated under the cap-and-trade plan to go towards clean coal technology, particularly capturing carbon and sequestration.

Lieberman's focus these days is on those middle-of-the-road senators. The ones which haven't come out for or against climate change legislation.

It's hard to believe there are still senators out there that don't have strong opinions about climate change legislation. And if there are, what level of concessions and consumer protection need to be added to the bill to get their support?