POWER POLITICS: The South proves a harsh environment for the climate bill

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a landmark climate bill on Friday, passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act by a narrow 219-212 margin. The measure, which would set caps on greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable energy and efficiency, now goes to the Senate.

If the House vote is any indication, the legislation can be expected to face significant opposition from Senators hailing from the coal-dependent South.

While lawmakers from the region's 13 states* constituted 32% of all those who took part in the June 26 vote on the bill, they represented 46% of those who voted against the legislation and only 19% of those who approved it. Less than a third of all Southern lawmakers -- 30% -- voted for the measure.

Southerners also constituted 46% of those Democrats who crossed party lines to vote against the bill, but none of the eight Republicans who crossed the other way were from the South. (It should be noted that three Democrats -- Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Pete Stark of California -- voted against the bill because they felt it didn't go far enough.)

Perhaps the South's hostility to the climate bill is not entirely surprising given its politics: The region was a stronghold of support for Republican John McCain in last November's elections, with 10 of the 13 Southern states voting against Democrat Barack Obama. And as an analysis of the climate bill vote by the National Journal found:
In both parties, nothing appeared to drive the outcome more than the presidential result in last November's election.
Republicans from districts that backed McCain voted against the bill 141 to 1, according to the National Journal, with a lawmaker from New Jersey the only "aye." Two other McCain Republicans did not take part in the vote. Meanwhile, of the 49 House Democrats from districts that voted for McCain, 29 voted against the measure.

On the other hand, only 15 of the 207 Democrats from districts that Obama carried last year voted against the bill, according to the National Journal. Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings, who hails from a strongly pro-Obama district, was among the three members who did not vote on the bill; as the co-chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, he was in Albania on Friday as an election observer.

Of these 15 no-voting "Obama Democrats," six were from the South: Glenn Nye of Virginia, Larry Kissell of North Carolina, Ciro Rodriguez and Solomon Ortiz of Texas, John Barrow of Georgia and Artur Davis of Alabama.

Interestingly, all of the states that the no-voting Southern Democrats were from except for Texas are coal states -- that is, states that rely on coal to generate at least 40% of their electricity. Of the 30 coal states, nine are in the South: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The National Journal's analysis found that 30 of the 44 Democrats who voted against the bill hailed from coal states:
That means about one-in-four of the coal state Democrats voted no, compared to only a little over one-in-10 of everyone else.
Of course, the economy of Texas is heavily dependent on another fossil fuel -- oil. So is the economy of Louisiana, where no members of Congress voted in favor of the climate bill.

The debate now moves to the Senate, where the influence of the industries with the most to lose in the transition to a clean-energy future -- and the lawmakers from states most deeply beholden to them -- will undoubtedly continue the fight against efforts to curb greenhouse gas pollution.

* AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV