Specter Switch: Good for the Earth?

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's sudden switch this morning from Republican to Democrat has pundits of all strips analyzing the move from all possible angles in an attempt to foretell the future. Assuming that Al Franken's Minnesota victory is finally ratified, Specter could be that crucial 60th vote for the Dems in the case of a filibuster, so that's one obvious effect (though Specter has already said "I will not be an automatic 60th vote").

Another question making the rounds in eco-circles is: Does this switch spell good news for environmental policy?

Obama has already made several key moves to reverse the previous administration's head-in-sand approach to climate change, and the implication was that there was more to come. Will a supposedly fililbuster-proof Senate majority embolden him to move further toward the green end of the spectrum?

As with all questions involving Specter, the best answer is: Maybe, maybe not. For one thing, as the Wall Street Journal blog pointed out, Specter not only supports "clean" coal wholeheartedly, because it “will play a key role in energy production well into the future,” but he's also a fan of "dirty" coal: “I supported an amendment to H.R. 6 aimed at launching the coal-to-liquids industry in the United States and was disappointed it was not included in the final Senate version."

And Grist notes that Specter failed to support two ambitious bills, McCain-Lieberman and Lieberman-Warner, instead pushing the “Low-Carbon Economy Act,” which Girst says "has weak targets, free permits, automatic off-ramps, and all the rest of the kinds of provisions that neuter a climate bill." However, Climate Progress points out that in the world of party politics, the past may not always be prologue: as a Republican facing a tough primary challenge from the right, he was a lost vote on global warming legislation.  One assumes that if he is going to seriously run as a Democrat, he’ll support an energy and climate bill."

That would be a nice assumption, but you know what happens when you assume. While nobody - maybe not even Arlen Specter - can predict exactly which way he'll come down in crucial votes, the move is still a big psychological boost for green advocates. If you need more than that, Wonk Room has a chart that you can pick apart, showing just how Specter voted on relevant legislation.It's little surprise that hit voting pattern matches those of conservative Democrats, because, you know, that's pretty much what he now is.

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