Senate Democrats Give Up on Climate Bill

After almost a year of trying to build consensus, top Democrats on Thursday admitted that a sweeping climate and energy bill simply couldn't be done, faulting Republicans for being unwilling to contribute neither votes nor ideas toward forging a compromise. At a press conference on the Hill, climate crusader Sen. John Kerry called the prospect "admittedly narrow." Majority Leader Harry Reid followed with a frank conclusion: "We simply don't have the votes."

The plan had been to package climate with a "spill bill," a measure responding to lax regulation on offshore drilling and broader energy development. Harnessing the outrage and anger at the situation in the Gulf of the moment gave Democrats the biggest momentum in years. Climate advocate hoped that images of oil-soaked birds would be able to bring together at least 60 votes. But Republicans vowed to fillibuster anything that put a price on carbon. Every time Kerry and Reid went to count, they fell short.

Environmental groups were slow to respond to news of the forfeit, in a seeming state of paralysis after months of strenuous pushing. "It seems that too many of our leaders are still beholden to industry," said Jackie Savitz, a senior scientist with Oceana. Other groups were simply incredulous. "You've got to be kidding me," a spokesman of one group told NEWSWEEK when informed of the news.

Kerry urged supporters to try to push other Senators to eventually come around and promised that the Senate would eventually return to the issue (the House passed a cap and trade bill last summer). It's unclear when or if that would actually happen. But some environmentalsts held out hope. Ben Schreiber, an analyst with Friends of the Earth, said that cap and trade was a flawed idea from the beginning, and a more effective climate bill may still be possible for next year.

In the mean time, the task of cutting carbon pollution appears to fall to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has had the power, backed by the Supreme Court, to impose emissions cuts since 2007, yet has urged Congress since then for a legislative solution. With no bill in the Senate, the agency is scheduled to usher in a set of new and controversial regulations targeting top polluters at the end of this year.