THE VINE OCTOBER 7, 2009
This is interesting. A small band of Senate Republicans are now suggesting they could, potentially, endorse the Kerry-Boxer climate bill—but only if it includes sufficient support for nuclear power and offshore oil drilling. Here's Lindsey Graham:
"A guy like Senator Kerry is looking for coalitions," Graham said. "If you had a bill that would allow for responsible offshore drilling, a robust nuclear power title, I think you could get some Republican votes for a cap-and-trade system."
And here's McCain:
McCain said he brings four major demands to the negotiation table: a commitment to construction of new nuclear power plants, loan guarantees, and solutions for both nuclear waste storage and recycling.
Okay, what sort of compromises are we talking here? On offshore drilling, there's precedent for a compromise: Last year, during the big energy debate, 20 senators from both sides of the aisle agreed to open federally protected areas in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia to drilling in exchange for new clean-energy subsidies. Obama cautiously endorsed the deal, but it never became law. Could it fly this time? From a climate standpoint, offshore drilling wouldn't be terribly significant—there's not enough oil to cause a major spike in greenhouse-gas pollution, and anyway, an economy-wide emissions cap would be in place. So it's not hard to envision Kerry and Boxer ceding on this—provided the concession actually does net a few GOP votes.
And what about nukes? It depends on the details. Nuclear may not be the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions, but a growing number of Dems aren't opposed to throwing it in the mix (yes, waste is a dilemma, but far less of a dilemma than the prospect of steep temperature increases). If we're talking loan guarantees and waste-storage plans in the context of a comprehensive climate bill, that shouldn't be a deal-killer—especially if it will make McCain happy and get him to vote for the thing. Certainly, if you're worried about global warming, tossing a little pork McCain's way is far preferable to snagging votes elsewhere by weakening the emissions goals or loosening oversight on carbon offsets.
There's one caveat, though: Other Republicans have said they'd like nuclear power included in any renewable-electricity standard (which would require utilities to get a certain portion of their power from sources like solar, wind, geothermal, or biomass by a certain date). My colleague Jesse Zwick reported on this back in July, and noted that the RES in the House climate bill already gives utilities some credit for nuclear. So that leaves just two options: You could let utilities get credit under the RES for new nuclear construction, which probably wouldn't have much impact either way, or you could let utilities get RES credit for existing plants they've already built, which would gut the standard. If Republicans have the latter in mind, it's a bad deal. But otherwise, it seems worth a discussion.