The unemployment rate is almost 10 percent, food prices are rising, and the price of oil is back over $80 per barrel.
It is in this economic environment that three U.S. senators-Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.-are planning to introduce a bill that would in all likelihood increase utility prices.
The three lawmakers have been putting together a global warming bill this spring, and their proposal is due to be unveiled the week of April 26. Early reports indicate that it will jettison an economy-wide cap-and-trade scheme in favor of one aimed-at least at first-at the electric power industry. In a further effort to bring wary senators aboard, the proposal would allow for more oil and natural gas production and include incentives for the nuclear power industry.
But some conservatives suspect that these add-ons won't amount to much. A much-hyped announcement in March from President Obama about increased offshore oil drilling, for example, left out California and other oil-rich areas. The incentives for building nuclear power plants may also be weak: "From what I've heard there is no meaningful nuclear component," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Business Week. "I've repeatedly said I would not support any proposal that didn't have a robust nuclear power component."
Most analysts say getting to the needed 60 votes for the bill in the Senate will be a daunting task for Democratic leaders. "Some would suggest that as you try to bring certain members on to an initiative, for every one you get on, you have two that leap out of the wheelbarrow," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
The bill also faces an increasingly skeptical public. In the wake of the recent Climategate controversy, in which leaked or hacked email messages showed some leading climate scientists trying to manipulate data and the peer-review process, the public seems to be shifting the burden of proof onto those who say global warming will be catastrophic.
In March, a Gallup poll found that 48 percent of Americans think global warming fears are "generally exaggerated," up from 30 percent in 2006 and 35 percent in 2008. A Pew survey in January showed global warming ranking last among 21 priorities for the president and Congress. Only 28 percent of the public thought fighting climate change should be a top priority.
One irony: As senators debate a bill that would raise energy costs to fight global warming, Americans are already paying more for food. A smaller than normal vegetable crop helped increase food prices by 2.4 percent in March, the biggest jump in 26 years. One of the reasons for the bad vegetable crop: a colder than normal winter.
The Treasury Department reported on April 21 that America's $100 bill is getting a new, high-tech look as part of an effort to keep ahead of counterfeiters. Among the new features: Right beside the image of Benjamin Franklin will be a blue security strip with lenses that magnify objects and make them appear to move as the bill is tilted. The bill will also include a Liberty Bell that appears and disappears when the bill is tilted. The bill will go into circulation on Feb. 10, 2011. Larry Felix, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, told the Associated Press that the goal was an eye-catching bill: "We wanted the changes to be very obvious, visible and easy to see."