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Jan. 11 2010 - 9:39 am | 206 views | 2 recommendations | 3 comments

Would you trade a Senate supermajority for a carbon cap?

A coal mine in Wyoming. Coal, produced over mi...

Under the Great Plains, a great deal of carbon. Image via Wikipedia

Exiting Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota are now free to vote in 2010 without concern for reelection.

That could be good news for a carbon cap and trade vote this year. After 2010, prospects look more grim, thanks in large part to North Dakota’s sooty politics.

Dorgan has been seen as a cap and trade opponent, albeit a soft one. In July he published an editorial in the Bismarck Tribune supporting controls on carbon dioxide, but not through cap and trade.

Dorgan’s greatest reservation, about potential carbon market malfeasance, has been addressed in the House cap and trade bill and would likely be addressed in any Senate version.

The concern that likely underlies his reservations, continued support from North Dakota’s powerful coal mining and energy industries, has been alleviated, at least in theory, by his pending retirement.

Most pundits think Dorgan’s seat will go to a Republican. And even if it goes to a Democrat it will probably go to one that resembles a Republican.

The behavior of Democrat Earl Pomeroy, North Dakota’s sole member of the House of Representatives, should give you an idea of the influence of coal in North Dakota and how that scantily populated state’s particular politics will have a disproportionate say in any effort to break the planet’s fever.

Pomeroy introduced a bill Friday that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA’s power to regulate emissions has been the Obama Administration’s hammer to pressure Congress to enact a carbon cap and trade law. Without the EPA threat, Congress can dither indefinitely while the world warms. With the EPA threat, Congress has an incentive to write its own law and fatten it with giveaways to industry and special interests.

Pomeroy was seen as a favorite for the seat being vacated by Dorgan, whose departure further imperils the Democrats’ 60-vote majority, just the number they need to stop Republican filibusters, but last week Pomeroy took himself out of the running and made it clear he’s happy representing coal in the House.

“Regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the current provisions of the Clean Air Act is irresponsible and just plain wrong,” he said as he introduced the bill yesterday. “That is why I introduced the Save Our Energy Jobs Act which would stop the EPA from moving forward with its proposal. I am not about to let some Washington bureaucrat dictate new public policy that will raise our electricity rates and put at risk the thousands of coal-related jobs in our state.”

In his career Pomeroy has received $363,489 in campaign contributions from the energy and natural resources sector, according to OpenSecrets.org (Dorgan: $829,625). Pomeroy voted against the cap and trade bill that passed the House last year. He explained that vote in December:

“The bill set unrealistic emission reduction targets that would likely cause a major switch from coal to other, more expensive fuel sources,” he said. “This would lead not only to higher energy costs for North Dakotans, but also increased unemployment from the potential closing of coal mines and coal-fired power plants.”

The emission reduction targets that Pomeroy calls unrealistic–a 17 percent reduction over 2005 levels by 2020–represents the modest promise the Obama Administration has offered the world in international climate-change negotiations. The European Union offered a 30 percent cut.

Dorgan has also characterized that 17 percent cut as too much, too fast, but now that he’s looking at a future filled with golf and daytime television, Dorgan can shift on that position without repercussion. North Dakota’s next senator, even a Democrat, is likely to be more of Pomeroy’s ilk.

And with Democrats like Pomeroy, who needs Republicans?

If there’s a year for cap and trade in America, it’s 2010. And if Democrats consider the North Dakota seat lost, they have a clear choice this year: strike while the iron’s hot, or give up on the environment. If they consider the supermajority lost, why not use it one last time?


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    About Me

    Environmental reporting recruited me 25 years ago—on my first day as a reporter for my college newspaper, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in the regular city trash. Since then I've written hard news for dailies, including the Arizona Republic, and slanty news for alternative weeklies, including Newcity. I've written a column for New Times, stories on the Web for Forecast Earth, essays for PEN International and other magazines. I lived in an idyllic California village nestled among volcanoes and vineyards until my batteries were full of sunshine, and then I returned to my origins on the South Side of Chicago, where hope persists with no illusions about the struggle ahead. I cross the asphalt jungle by bicycle and el, mostly to get to the University of Chicago, where I teach journalism. But what matters more than any of this is a lifelong love for the natural world. We are all born with it, I believe, but some turn away.

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