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Senate Filibusters the Planet

The Senate won't take up meaningful climate change legislation before the August recess, which means, as my colleague Brad Plumer reports, it may not take it up at all.

No cap on carbon emissions. No renewable energy standard for electric utilities. Only a few small energy-efficiency measures. (And Reid's office declined to say what provisions the bill will contain to "lessen our dependence on oil.") Everything else will have to wait until the fall—which means the odds of passage are low. Reid pointed out that he couldn't get a single Republican interested in a big, comprehensive energy bill. It's not even clear how many Democrats would have supported the bill—when asked, Reid pointedly declined to give a whip count.

Meanwhile, Politico tells us the blame game has already started:

One exasperated administration official on Thursday lambasted the environmentalists – led by the Environmental Defense Fund – for failing to effectively lobby GOP senators.
“They didn’t deliver a single Republican,” the official told POLITICO. “They spent like $100 million and they weren’t able to get a single Republican convert on the bill.”
But many say it was Obama who didn’t do enough to make the climate bill a big enough priority, allowing other monster big-ticket items like the economic stimulus, health care and Wall Street reform to suck up all the oxygen and leaving environmentalists grasping for straws too late in the game – well past the expiration date for other big accomplishments during the 111th Congress.
“The absence of direct, intense presidential leadership doomed this process,” said Eric Pooley, author of “Climate War,” a just-published book that chronicles the past three years of debate on global warming. “We did have a window there, and now the window is shut. It’s more about prying it back open than anything else.”

I understand both arguments. I think both are wrong. Yes, environmentalists could have been more effective and, yes, the president could have pushed harder. But even if they had, they probably would have failed to 60 Senate votes for putting a price on carbon.

Now, 50 votes they might have gotten. And if we lived on a planet where a majority of senators could actually pass laws, then that would have been sufficient.

Instead, we live on a planet where the Senate has something called the filibuster. And now, thanks to the filibuster, that planet will keep getting warmer.

Update: Tim Dickinson, who's done terrific reporting on this issue for Rolling Stone, thinks the administration deserves plenty of blame. But Joe Klein is optimistic (and surprisingly persuasive) that real climate change legislation remains in our future.