January 20, 2010 / 3:05 AM / 9 years ago

Massachusetts vote hurts U.S. climate bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Scott Brown’s upset victory on Tuesday in the special Senate race has dealt a further blow to Democrats’ drive to pass a climate control bill in 2010.

Last June, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a cap and trade bill that would require reductions in industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases over the next four decades. It also would allow pollution permits to be traded in a new regulated market.

But the global warming bill has languished in the Senate, where some members have been trying to find a compromise. Once Brown takes office, Democrats will hold 59 of the 100 votes in the Senate and the Republicans 41. The bill needs 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles that could block passage.

Here’s a look at possible impacts of the Massachusetts election on the climate bill:

* In electing a conservative Republican, Massachusetts picked someone who campaigned against cap and trade and argued it would saddle consumers and businesses with higher costs. Brown will replace the late Senator Edward Kennedy, a liberal icon who had been a supporter of the climate bill. It’s now even tougher to pass the bill in the Senate this year.

* Republicans who oppose requiring industries to reduce carbon pollution will argue the vote was a message to President Barack Obama that one of his top priorities is out of sync with voters. Many of them will be further emboldened to oppose any comprehensive climate change bill this year.

* Democrats will ramp up their rhetoric that a climate change bill will create and not lose jobs during these tough economic times. “This is the single best opportunity we have for energizing the economy, creating jobs and getting cleaner air, and if you sell those arguments you’ve got a winning issue,” Senator John Kerry told Reuters on Tuesday in an e-mailed statement.

* The election result could give foreign countries such as China and India — both huge carbon emitters like the United States — further reservations about promising to set their own emission-reduction goals if Washington can provide no clear message that it also will do so. The turmoil that plagued the Copenhagen treaty talks last month seems likely to continue at the next U.N. conference in Mexico City next November.

* Alternatives to cap and trade — and the trillion-dollar market for pollution permits it would create — could gain more traction. Those include less ambitious legislation encouraging the use of more alternative fuels, such as solar and wind power. Others likely will see an opening for pushing a pollution cap but without the trading mechanism, or a straight-forward tax on carbon. Republicans likely will be emboldened to seek more U.S. oil drilling and additional government help to expand nuclear power.

* Environmental groups will oppose the oil drilling and nuclear power moves unless they are coupled with aggressive steps to control carbon emissions throughout the U.S. economy. They may conclude that a climate change bill’s best prospects will come in 2011, with the congressional elections behind them. But they would be gambling that Democrats won’t lose too many seats in November.

* The Environmental Protection Agency will continue down the path toward regulating carbon emissions for the first time. The Obama administration prefers a comprehensive law instead of regulation but hopes the threat of regulation will encourage some Republicans to eventually join onto a compromise bill.

Editing by Mary Milliken and Howard Goller

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