King Coal

Barack Obama has promised to push cap-and-trade legislation this year, and one way of getting it approved in the Senate is to push it through via the budget reconciliation process, where it would require only 50 votes to pass.  Elana Schor reports that this has run into a roadblock:

In a letter delivered to the Senate Budget Committee yesterday, eight Democratic senators joined 25 Republicans to defend the GOP’s right to set a 60-vote margin for passing emissions limits.

“We oppose using the budget process to expedite passage of climate legislation,” the senators, including eight centrist Democrats, wrote in their missive.

….Late Update: The eight Democratic senators who signed on to the letter are Robert Byrd (WV), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Evan Bayh (IN), Mark Pryor (AR), Bob Casey (PA), Carl Levin (MI), and Mary Landrieu (LA).

Take a look at those names: six are from the midwest and the south, joined by Casey and Byrd.  In other words, coal country senators.  Nearly all the electricity generated in these regions comes from coal, and a lot of that coal comes from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the #2 and #4 coal-producing states in the country.

This is a dynamic to watch.  The battle over cap-and-trade isn’t just between liberals and conservatives, it’s also between regions.  You’ll find coal-fired electric plants all around the country, but the midwest and the south rely on it much more heavily than the west and the northeast, which generate a lot of their electricity via hydro and natural gas.  Cap-and-trade will raise the price of coal-fired electricity more than any other kind, which means the price increases will hit the south and midwest especially hard.

This letter, then, isn’t just a sign that there are some Democratic senators who feel strongly about not bending Senate rules.  It’s a sign that Democrats from the south and midwest are probably going to have to bribed to support cap-and-trade.  The big question is, how?  Can they be bought off in fairly benign, traditional ways, or will their price effectively mean the gutting of the legislation?  Stay tuned.

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