Brown's Senate win could hinder climate bill push

Republican and industry activists who oppose cap-and-trade say Brown’s win strengthens their hand.

“What this will do, what a Brown victory will do, is place a focus on growing jobs and improving the economy, and if the perception still exists that cap-and-trade does not fall into that category, it will most likely get cast to the side,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, a former aide to GOP leadership in both chambers.

He argues that wariness of climate legislation among some Democrats in coal-reliant states will spread. “A Brown victory will further the angst beyond those Democrats to the whole Democratic party,” he said in an interview Tuesday before the polls closed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week that he remains committed to bringing up climate and energy legislation this spring, but some environmentalists and Democratic aides have been privately concerned that proposals to cap emissions will fall by the wayside.

“There is definitely a lot of pessimism as it is and this certainly wouldn’t help,” said one Senate Democratic aide this week as Brown moved ahead in the polls.

Already, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who opposes cap-and-trade, predicted Tuesday morning that climate legislation would not come up in 2010. He predicts – and hopes – that the chamber will instead take up a package of energy measures that does not include mandatory emissions limits.

But other analysts disagree that a Brown victory is a nail in the coffin for climate change legislation, which narrowly passed the House in June.

Christine Tezak, a veteran energy industry analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., said in a research note Tuesday that a Coakley loss is far from the end for climate legislation this year. She noted that it could derail Democratic health care legislation, and if that occurs then Democrats will be left seeking other victories.

“While it is very easy to suggest that Congress may want to throw up its hands and do nothing for the balance of the year, incumbent Democrats will need a win – not inaction – to reverse what will be hailed as a significant defeat for their agenda and prove they can govern,” she wrote.

“There may be greater pressure to salvage an energy and climate package. If health care is shelved, there would be time to address it,” she added.

More narrowly, Brown’s win means another “yes” vote for climate legislation that Democrats must seek if climate legislation is brought up this year.

But passing climate legislation has always rested on the need to win support of several moderate GOP members to offset the loss of likely Democratic opponents like Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.).

“Energy legislation is traditionally regional, not partisan,” said Paul Bledsoe, director of communications and strategy for the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, a group that backs cap-and-trade. “Unlike health care, it has been obvious that energy and climate legislation was going to need significant Republican support to become law.”