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Is The Energy-Only Bill About To Make A Comeback?

There's still a lot of uncertainty about the Senate climate bill. Now Harry Reid's saying he'll put it on the Senate calendar before immigration, after all. "Common sense dictates that if you have a bill that is ready to go, that is the one I am going to go to,” Reid told reporters earlier. “Because immigration—we don’t have a bill yet." But no one knows if that's enough to bring Lindsey Graham (who is, at least for now, the sole Republican supporter of the bill) back to the table—he's been grumbling today that he'll abandon the climate-legislation push if immigration comes up at all.

Meanwhile, E&E News reports that Jeff Bingaman is advocating for the Senate to take up his smaller "energy only" bill instead, which would create a federal renewable-energy standard, offer financing for clean energy projects, put in place a whole bevy of efficiency measures, give the feds authority for new transmission lines, and also allow more oil and gas drilling off the coast of Mexico. No cap on carbon emissions. No trading schemes. "I don't dismiss what anybody else is doing, but it seems to me that we shouldn't have that hold up another piece of legislation that has great merit for the environment and energy," said Byron Dorgan (D-ND), another supporter of the energy-only approach.

A few things to say about this. First, an energy bill without an actual cap on carbon isn't likely to do nearly as much to cut emissions. To take just one example, you can make homes and gadgets more efficient, but without limits on emissions, people may take advantage of the added efficiency to use more power. (See this story of Boulder's struggles to benefit from new efficiency measures.) On his new and excellent blog, Michael Levi has a good discussion of recent economic research on why both funding for alternative energy and a price on carbon are necessary to curb greenhouse gases.

The other point is that it's not even clear that an energy-only bill would be easier to pass than a big climate bill that had a cap on carbon. Many liberals and environmentalists dislike the energy-only bill because it's far too weak—one analysis found that the bill's renewable mandates would lead to no more renewable power than if nothing at all was passed. And it's hard to sell coastal Democrats like Bill Nelson or Robert Menendez on the benefits of offshore drilling if the only thing they're getting in return is… a slew of middling subsidies for various energy sources. So it's not like this is necessarily a simpler route.