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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

Dexter Cooke
News
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Jan 06, 2010

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.

Dexter Cooke | He is an orthopedic surgeon who insists that a physician's first priority should be patient care. He specializes in minimally invasive complete knee replacement surgery and laparoscopic procedures that reduce pain and recovery time. He graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina with a medical degree and a postdoctoral fellowship in orthopedic medicine.

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