Tripartisan climate change legislation, which was scheduled to be unveiled last Monday, hung in limbo after Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — the only Republican sponsor of the legislation — withdrew his support due to the Senate leadership’s plan to place immigration ahead of climate change on the Senate calendar.

On top of Graham’s withdrawal, the expanding oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is lowering the odds for climate change legislation this year.

Graham had worked with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) for months to craft climate change legislation that could win the support of both industry and environmentalists. Graham announced on April 24 that he was exiting talks on the bill because of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) intent to bring up immigration before climate change legislation.

“Moving forward on immigration — in this hurried, panicked manner — is nothing more than a cynical ploy,” Graham wrote in a letter to business and conservative leaders. “I am very disappointed with this turn of events and believe their [Obama administration’s and Senate Democratic leadership’s] decision flies in the face of commitments made weeks ago to Sens. Kerry, Lieberman and me. I deeply regret that election year politics will impede, if not derail, our efforts to make our nation energy independent,” he said.

“I care equally about immigration and climate change,” Graham said in an interview with the Washington Post. “But if you stack them together this year you’ll compromise climate and energy. You’ll compromise my ability to get votes on climate change. When I told everyone I would do climate, in fact, I was assured we also wouldn’t be doing immigration.”

For the “renewable and energy industries, this [Graham’s departure] is a very unwelcome development. The utilities, industrials and oil and gas companies which had been negotiating to get a deal done are bound to need as much reassurance as Graham to get back on board,” said energy analyst Christine Tezak of Robert W. Baird & Co.

“I regret that allegations of partisan politics will prevent us from introducing the bill on Monday as planned. I know from all of our work over the past year that Sen. Graham shares our commitment to this bill,” Lieberman said.

“I look forward to Sen. Graham rejoining our efforts after we work through the concerns that are preventing us from advancing a cause the three of us believe in so deeply. I will not give up and will continue to work with Sens. Kerry, Graham and the broad coalition of industry and environmental support [that] this bill has generated to pass [this bill] this year.”

While immigration was dubbed the culprit, Scott Segal, a partner with the Washington, DC-based law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani, said that was only part of the problem. “While it’s tempting to view the immigration dust-up as an external force disrupting the climate discussion, all was not completely well even before the recent event.”

For starters, there were plenty of “open questions” about the parts of the bill related to the power and transportation fuel sectors, he said. And the manufacturing provisions were far from complete, according to Segal.

“So if the immigration fight lit the match, there was already some smoldering in advance of [Monday’s] planned” release of the climate bill, he noted.

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