What Comes After Cap and Trade?

Republican Scott Brown's upset victory over Democratic incumbent Martha Coakley for the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat spells the almost certain demise of cap and trade in the Senate.

Yesterday, with eyes fixed on the Brown vs. Coakley race Sen. Bryan Dorgon (D- N.D.) declared cap and trade dead.

Now today Democratic House whip Steny Hoyer says House leadership may strip cap and trade off the other parts of the climate bill:

"We ought not to let one be the victim to the other," Hoyer declared.

It's not the end yet, though. Senate President Harry Reid must dutifully insist that cap and trade is not dead and Senators Kerry and Lieberman will continue to tell themselves that they can pull vibrant (and by necessity, bipartisan) support for a withering policy.

But while some liberal bloggers will continue to offer them a thin veneer of "public support," most of the blogosphere has turned to the real question at hand: If cap and trade is off the table, what, if anything, will replace it?

Both Adam Werbach, CEO and founder of Saatchi and Saatchi S, and Breakthrough's Jesse Jenkins have pointed to the overwhelming need for a "Plan B." And while I doubt either author was cognizant of it, the unintentional allusion to the "morning after" pill of the same name, could hardly be more apt.

This morning, with Brown elected the first Republican Senator in Massachusetts in, well, ages, Democrats realized they have made a mistake.

According to multiple quantitative analyses by the Breakthrough Institute, cap and trade would do little to actually transform our energy economy. But without cap and trade, the House climate bill is little more than energy efficiency regulations and a (relatively meaningless) Renewable Energy and Efficiency Standard; hardly a robust platform for Democrats to move forward with an energy agenda that appeals to the public's demands for jobs and economic growth.

Instead, as Werbach points out:

"Making fossil fuels expensive through a complicated cap and trade system is one way of incenting change. Investing in clean energy directly is another way. And it's the right path to pursue right now."

Investment in clean energy RD&D is far from emergency contraception - after all, it's what should have been done in the first place - but a new national agenda that embraces public and political support of investment in infrastructure, innovation, and jobs is the way forward for both the climate and the economy.