June 27

Tuesday Preview: A Power Sector Cap?

On Tuesday, President Obama finally sits down with a bipartisan group of senators to talk about climate and energy legislation. It’s a big moment — perhaps the last chance Obama will have to make the case for a real climate bill before Senate Dema decide which provisions to include in their bill. Environmental groups are still hoping for an economy-wide cap. I’m all for that, but I won’t be surprised or crushed if the senators emerge from the meeting talking about a cap on the utility sector only. In fact, after the fires of the past year, I’d be delighted.

Power plants account for more than a third of US carbon emissions, so capping them would be an important first step. And the utility sector already has experence with a cap–a highly successful cap on sulfur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain has been in place for 15 years. If we need to cap power plants first in order to prove the Chicken Littles wrong, so be it. But let’s get started already.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has signaled openness to a utility-only cap, and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham–who coauthored the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill before withdrawing his support last month–has been talking about sponsoring one. Next year. So Job One for Obama on Tuesday is to fast-forward Graham, and get him back in the game now. If Lindsey and the others emerge from the meeting and endorse the idea of a utility-only cap this year, that will be a very big win. If, however, the senators make only the same sort of vague and meaningless noises they have been making for weeks, that will be a very, very bad sign.

Climate campaigners are always talking about make-or-break moments of decision. This moment deserves that description.

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