Starbucks, Levi's and eBay Want Their Climate Bill Back; They'd Better Brace for Disappointment

Last Updated Apr 29, 2010 8:30 AM EDT

The climate-change and energy bill should have made its debut in the Senate on Monday. Instead, it's just barely hanging on to life, leaving two of the bill's co-authors -- John Kerry, D-Mass. and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. -- scrambling to keep the damned piece of legislation alive. Their partner, Republican Lindsey Graham, who backed out in a fit of protest over Senate leadership's plan to push immigration reform ahead of their bill, is still AWOL.

Not all is lost. Major U.S. businesses, including Starbucks (SBUX), Levi Strauss, Gap (GPS) , eBay (EBAY) and Nike (NKE) along with dozens of clean energy companies, have called for the Senate to do whatever it takes to revive the bill. And the tripartisan trio, clearly trying to buy some time for the climate bill, sent it to the EPA for analysis. It's not an entirely desperate move, since the EPA has to review the bill before it goes to the Senate floor for debate anyway.

Question is, will this be enough to keep it alive? The climate-change bill will be introduced to the Senate once the political tussling is over. Graham has worked too hard -- adding sweeteners for oil companies and the nuclear energy industry -- to back out now. But that doesn't mean it has a future.

Consider for a minute how quickly the climate bill went from darling to dead-in-the-water status. Sure, clean energy and some high-profile U.S. businesses, not just the usual eco-minded suspects, support the legislation. The bill even had support from three major oil companies. But that doesn't mean it has support in the Senate.

There are still some major hurdles -- and it's not just that mid-term elections are right around the corner. One of the biggest sticking points will be over the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The climate bill, which hasn't been publicly introduced, does set limits on the EPA, which makes most environmentalists cringe. Some green groups actually see the climate bill's recent demise as a good thing, which says a lot about how much support is out there.

Plus, no one seems to have actually seen the bill. Mother Jones' reporter Kate Sheppard has fittingly dubbed the mysterious climate-change bill 'sasquatch.' It's pretty hard to drum up support for the bill no one has read.

The next two months will determine whether the climate bill lives or dies. By then, the EPA and later, the Congressional Budget Office and Energy Information Administration will have reviewed the bill. Some positive analysis, especially from the EIA, will build support among the energy industry and perhaps Republican lawmakers. And hopefully a few senators will have read the bill. This is when Graham, if he comes back on board, will have to deliver and secure Republican support for the bill. If not, the bill's life will be a short one.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the guy who pissed Graham off with his talk of immigration reform, is the one loose cannon in all this. Reid has backtracked a bit and said he's willing to move forward with a climate bill first. But he could pass on the complex and controversial bill and go with an energy package that simply promotes clean energy and domestic drilling without setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo from Flickr user xJasonRogersx, CC 2.0 See additional BNET Energy coverage on the climate bill: