Let it be

The one approach I will not accept," said Barack Obama in June of Congress's faltering efforts to fight global warming, "is inaction." Instead, the president instructed America's lawmakers to "seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels". Yet the energy bill unveiled by the Democratic majority in the Senate on July 27th does nothing of the sort. Harry Reid, the majority leader, having earlier abandoned as hopeless an effort to limit America's emissions of greenhouse gases through a "cap-and-trade" scheme, is proposing nothing more substantial than subsidies for home insulation and trucks that run on natural gas. (The bill also removes the $75m cap on oil firms' liability for damage from offshore spills, in response to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.)

Mr Obama has said he will fight on for a weightier bill. But the prospects do not look good. Mr Reid complained that inveterate Republican opposition had prevented the Senate from taking up the cap-and-trade scheme passed by the House of Representatives last year. That is true: even Republican senators who had supported the idea in the past, such as John McCain and Lindsay Graham, had pointedly backed away from it in recent months.

Most Republicans dismiss cap and trade as a job-killing stealth tax. They point out, rightly, that any measure that puts a price on carbon would raise energy bills — something they view as madness when the economy is so weak. Elections in November are likely to increase the Republicans' strength in Congress, and thus make the adoption of strict limits on emissions even more unlikely.

But they are not the only sceptics. Many Democrats, especially from states with a lot of coal or wilting manufacturers, have long been unenthusiastic. Ten such senators wrote to Mr Reid in 2008 expressing grave misgivings about cap and trade. Some members of the House complain that their vote in favour of the scheme could cost them their jobs in November.

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