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Dorgan’s Retirement Could Be Good News for Climate Legislation

My colleague Mike Lillis speculates that the retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) could become a major advocate for the coal industry and a strong opponent of climate legislation. It’s a good theory, although I have to say that my initial reaction to the news of his retirement was, well, kind of the opposite: that free of electoral pressures, he’d be more likely to back a cap-and-trade bill.

Now, Dorgan has certainly been no friend to cap-and-trade advocates of late — he made that clear enough in his July op-ed in The Bismarck Tribune, “Reduce our CO2, yes … but cap-and-trade, no.” But his criticism of the legislation has centered primarily on the market-based approach to carbon capping, and he’s actually expressed support for a cap in general, provided it mitigates the effects of higher energy costs on consumers.

Political realities, however, made it tough for him to put his weight behind cap-and-trade. North Dakota is not only a solidly red state, it’s also a coal state. You can be sure that support for a measure that has a liberal, anti-coal reputation wouldn’t do Dorgan any favors in a campaign against the tremendously popular Gov. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).

Joe Romm of Climate Progress agrees that Dorgan might now be more likely to support cap-and-trade, writing, “Let’s say for now that Dorgan is 50-50 or better to vote for the final bill — and maybe higher for at least cloture. After all, what possible reason could he give to support a filibuster?”

Of course, this is all predicated on a Senate climate bill in 2010 — a hefty assumption, given some Democrats’ reluctance to tackle the contentious issue in a difficult political environment. But since just about everyone expects the Democratic majority in Congress to shrink after the midterm elections, if the Democratic leadership truly wants to pass climate legislation — and it’s given every indication that it does — it’ll have no real choice but to act this year. And Dorgan’s newfound political freedom could prove a boon to the prospects for passage.

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