28 July 2010

The Nuclear Option

[UPDATE 7/29: Just one day later E&E News pours cold water on the nuclear option.]

E&E Daily Reports that the White House has floated the idea of adding cap & trade provisions to energy legislation in conference.

Cap-and-trade provisions that likely cannot pass the Senate directly this year could be added to a narrower energy package during a House and Senate conference, a White House spokesman suggested yesterday.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters he "certainly wouldn't rule it out" that a House-Senate conference committee would reconcile differing versions of energy legislation by adding climate provisions left out of a narrow package the Senate is expected to take up this week.

Gibbs said he does not think a climate bill is dead for the year, despite the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to drop greenhouse gas emission limits from the scaled-back oil spill response and energy bill unveiled yesterday.

"The House passed a very strong and very comprehensive energy bill last year," Gibbs said. "The Senate is going to take up a version that is more scaled down but still has some important aspects, particularly dealing with how we deal with oil spills in the future. But I don't think that closes the door -- once a bill passes, each house doesn't close the door to having some sort of conference."

Briefly, here is what this means in the context of US congressional politics: when legislation is passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, it often contains substantive differences. These differences are worked out by a small committee of members of Congress (called a "conference committee") from both chambers in what is called "conference."

Republicans are taking steps to prevent cap and trade from slipping into legislation through a back door. For reasons that I have already discussed, I don't see this effort getting very far, but I am surprised that the White House even raised it as a trial balloon. Maybe they are hoping to distract or otherwise confound the Republicans. If so, playing with bombs is a risky strategy.


  1. I see this as just an effort to motivate the democratic base, just like the dust-up over immigation. They don't want legislation, they want an issue.

  2. Despite the impression many have, Obama is getting everything he wants through the Congress.
    He has not lost one major push yet.
    My bet is that he tries very hard to get a cap-n-trade on a bill, and that he succeeds.
    I think he is using a ratchet strategy: giong forward one incremental 'click' at a time, and completely confident that the ratchet will at least hold the position he clicks up to.
    I wonder how much money is going down republican/conservative ph0one banks, given by people who hope some of the most extreme Obama policies will be pushed back, to people who don't have either the will or the means to roll one bit of it back.

  3. This is just silly. If you want a plausible last hurrah for cap and trade, then look instead at the possibility of using it as a mechanism for CO2 control through the EPA. The EPA already has cap and trade schemes for other pollutants, after all.