Chamber Supports Senate Climate Debate—Sort Of

The Chamber of Commerce expressed support for a “bipartisan” solution to the problem of climate change in a letter received today by the Senate panel charged with advancing a climate bill. (And yes, the letter is real and not a prank.) Has the beleagured group finally done a 180 degree turn on its climate policy? Well, not exactly. While it may be trying to improve its image on climate issues, it’s not willing to support the actual bill that the Senate is currently debating.

The press release accompanying the letter indicates that the Chamber still opposes any bill containing mandatory emissions cuts. “The Chamber believes the Senate has an opportunity to promote a workable bottom-up plan that starts by addressing the fundamental building blocks—rather than the top-down approach of targets and timetables it has taken thus far,” Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, said in the release.

The Chamber is, however, enthused about the partnership between John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). The Chamber “agrees with a great deal of the principles” and believes they offer a “practical and realistic framework for legislation,” the letter says, “one that echoes the core principles that the Chamber embeds in all of its communications on climate policy.” (Except, of course, maybe this one, which seems to indicate that climate change is good for you.)

The Chamber also makes some requests in the letter, asking that the bill, among other things, “minimize the impact on major emitters,” “take advantage of nuclear power,” and “make us the ‘Saudi Arabia of clean coal’.” The Chamber also wants  the bill to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act—an authority that was taken away under the House bill but largely maintained in the Kerry-Boxer bill so far.

The Chamber adds that “proposals by Senators Alexander, Barrasso, Baucus, Bingaman, Cantwell, Dorgan, Lieberman, Murkowski, Vitter and Voinovich (to name a few) all contain elements that can be used in conjunction with the Kerry-Graham proposal.” While some of those senators have indeed offered reasonable ideas about how to shape climate legislation, not all of them have offered constructive suggestions. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), for example, recently called climate change evidence “ridiculous pseudo-science garbage.” Sen. Barrasso is also a climate change skeptic who attempted just last month to cut off funding for a new Center on Climate Change and National Security.

So, what does this mean? I want to interpret it as a good-faith effort on the part of the Chamber. But it sure sounds like a lot of the same stuff we’ve heard from the group before—with the usual caveats indicating that while it could support climate legislation, it doesn’t support any of the legislation that actually exists.

Still, if this letter in any way encourages Republicans to stop their cynical boycott of the markup, that’s no small thing.