Burn Baby Burn

John Kerry, Scott Brown, and the death of climate-change legislation
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  July 28, 2010

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Last Thursday afternoon, moments after I posted on Facebook about the death of the climate-change bill, I got a message from a surprised and disappointed Laura Everett. She was in Washington waiting to board a return flight to Boston, having just been lobbying Senator Scott Brown's office to support that very piece of legislation.

Everett, associate director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, had gone to the capital with a dozen clergy and a group of the state's clean-energy business owners, as part of a national Clean Energy Works lobbying effort.

Although they didn't get a face-to-face with Brown, the group did meet with the senator's senior staff members. "I felt that it was a productive conversation," Everett says, "about why [the legislation] matters so much to Massachusetts."

Earlier that day, the group also visited Senate President Harry Reid and Senator John Kerry. And before heading to the airport, they met with Congressman Ed Markey — with whom they were discussing strategies for winning passage of the climate bill at the very moment Reid and Kerry were announcing the end of that effort.

That pretty well captures the futility of the Senate's attempt this year to pass carbon-capping legislation — and to start making a dent in our self-inflicted global catastrophe. Our two Massachusetts senators were often at the heart of that futility.

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Three weeks earlier, in a phone interview, an openly frustrated Kerry referred to "my colleague from Massachusetts" as he griped about US senators cowering from support of carbon-capping legislation. I attempted to draw him out about Brown, but he declined to go any further.

The conversation came a day after an hour-and-a-half meeting about the energy bill with President Barack Obama, Senate Democrats, and a group of potentially persuadable Republicans. Brown wasn't there.

Kerry had thrown himself into climate-change legislation; Reid, in a Huffington Post column last weekend, wrote that "Kerry has worked harder than I've ever seen a senator work to bring [Republicans] along."

Consciously or not, Kerry seemed to be trying to prove that he could fill the shoes of the late Ted Kennedy, who frequently took responsibility for guiding big legislation into law.

Telling me that he had hope, but not optimism, about the bill's chances, Kerry was atypically frank about what was holding things up: "It's purely political." More than enough senators understand and support the need to place a cap on carbon output to pass a bill, he said, but too many of them believe that they would be punished in the November elections for making the vote. "The political calendar is key" to the wavering of both Democrats and Republicans.

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Kerry initially thought that Brown seemed open to supporting the bill. So did Ben Wright, global-warming advocate for Boston-based Environment Massachusetts, who has spent the past six months trying to persuade the state's junior senator to support climate-change legislation — ever since Brown's election made him a key to passage.

The problem, according to Wright and others, is simple: Brown made a campaign pledge not to support cap-and-trade, and he won't break that promise.

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