Eyeing Democratic Majority, Senators Gear Up to Take a Run at Climate Legislation

Buoyed by Hillary Clinton’s recent surge in national polls but also in key swing states from Pennsylvania to Ohio, a bloc of Senate Democrats see reason to hope for taking over control of the chamber and putting climate change back on the front burner.

In interviews with Bloomberg BNA, veteran Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) and relative newcomers like Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey and Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) offer a range of options from smaller bills to a long-shot carbon tax.

Carper, who along with Cardin is in line for a committee chairmanship if Democrats win the Senate, says climate change remains “one of the critical issues of our time” and pushed back against suggestions that he may lack the passion for pushing such legislation. “I have cared about this since I got here” in the Senate, “and the flame burns strong,” said Carper, who would have his pick to chair either the Senate environment or homeland security panel in a Democratic Senate.

Democrats need to flip just four seats to gain Senate control if Clinton wins the White House Nov. 8—her vice president would decide a tie—or five if Republican nominee Donald Trump defeats her.

resized climate change leaders chart

One note of caution comes from Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, one of the dwindling numbers of Republicans in Congress still outright supportive of climate action. (Of the six Republican senators to vote to proceed on the last cap-and-trade bill on the floor in 2008, only Collins remains).

Collins advice? “Chalk up some small victories instead of trying to solve the huge problems or pursue highly controversial and divisive issues like the carbon tax,” she said, pointing to bills that would make incremental progress on energy efficiency or target potent greenhouse gas emissions such as hydrofluorocarbons and black carbon.

“The fact is,” Collins said, “a carbon tax and other controversial proposals will not make it through Congress” regardless of which party is in control.

Check out the whole story in my special report, Eyeing Democratic Majority, Senators Rethink Climate Strategy.