Resurrecting a Climate Bill: The Power of Sen. Kerry's Irrational Exuberance

Last Updated Feb 25, 2010 5:29 PM EST

It's tried to die. Really, it has. But every time legislation to combat climate change rolls over and takes its last breath, Sen. John Kerry jumps in with the defibrillator paddles and some irrational exuberance to keep it alive.

It's like some crazy Jedi mind trick where if Kerry keeps saying the bill is alive, people will believe it. And it seems to be working. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has been wishy washy on the issue, is now urging Kerry -- along with his partners Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman -- to quickly finish up their work on drafting an energy and climate bill. Not only does Kerry believe -- as he exclaimed this week in a speech on climate change legislation -- that there will be a bill, he insists that it'll be comprehensive. Meaning, it will include unpopular stuff like putting a price on carbon. And that's the tricky part.

A bill loaded with goodies like tax credits for clean energy technology would sail through the congressional gauntlet. One that asks legislators to make tough choices about limiting greenhouse gases or pricing carbon is far more difficult, particularly when the Democrats are fearful of big losses in midterm elections.

The tripartisan trio - Kerry, Graham and Lieberman -- rescued doomed climate change legislation last year and set about drafting a compromise bill that promised to offer something for everyone -- including nuclear energy. Since then, enthusiasm and the political willingness to pass climate change has taken a dive.

Global climate talks in Copenhagen were held and produced less than inspiring results; big oil companies ConocoPhillips and BP America have pulled out of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership; reports from the International Panel on Climate Change have received even more scrutiny; and several organizations, state governments and lawmakers have tried to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. In short, Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are trying to produce comprehensive legislation that tackles a politically sticky and unpopular topic in a hostile environment. Oh, and midterm elections are in November, leaving little time to get a bill wrapped up and passed.

Even with all that gloom and doom, Kerry's speech this week fueled speculation and boosted hopes that a climate bill would appear this spring. Kerry gave this ever-so-hopeful view just one day after Sen. Max Baucus, who as Finance committee chair would have a role in the trade aspects of climate legislation, said the bill doesn't have much of a chance this year.

A few excerpts from Kerry's speech on the future of climate legislation:

I want to begin by saying to you that I'm excited. I know that's completely contrary to any conventional wisdom.

We're on a short track here, in terms of piecing together legislation we intend to roll out. I'm not going to give you days, I'm not going to give you a date because I always know what happens when you do that. But we're moving rapidly.

Harry Reid called me just the other day and affirmed that he wants a bill, and he wants a bill soon.

Following Kerry's comments, one reporter, who clearly hasn't sipped the Kool-Aid, muttered: "Is John Kerry delusional?" Photo by Flickr user Mockstar, CC 2.0