Climate bill champion, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

In a sudden turnaround of events over the weekend, efforts to push cap-and-trade climate bills through Congress came to a screeching halt.

Proponents of laws that would combat “global warming” through capping emissions and compelling businesses that exceed the cap to purchase credits from companies that don’t had been looking at two possible avenues to get the scheme passed.

The first route stems from last year, when the House passed H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, by the razor-thin vote of 219-212. Two months later, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., introduced a companion bill – S. 1733 – in the Senate, which was then put on the legislative calendar.

But there the bill has languished.

“Global warming” critic Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., in fact, told Newsmax this weekend that the bill has very little support, even among Democrats, falling more than 20 votes short of the needed 51 to pass.

Matt Dempsey, Inhofe’s communications director, further told WND, “Senate Bill 1733 is flat-out dead.”

Dempsey, however, also told WND of the second legislative avenue, a joint effort by Kerry, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut to skirt the usual Senate channels to get cap and trade passed.

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“The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill has never been introduced; they never intended to release it publicly, because they didn’t want it to go through the five or six committees with jurisdiction,” Dempsey explained. “They hoped to circumvent the committee process, hand it off to Sen. Reid and, through closed-door deals, bring it to the floor for a vote.”

On Saturday, however, this second avenue suddenly closed as well, when Graham publicly abandoned support for the plan.

The New York Times reports Graham sent a “sharply worded” letter to his colleagues, protesting reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada planned to push through sweeping immigration reform before climate and energy legislation.

Graham reportedly wrote that Reid’s refusal to give priority to climate policy “has destroyed my confidence that there will be a serious commitment and focus to move energy legislation this year.”

“All of the key players, particularly the Senate leadership, have to want this debate as much as we do,” Graham reportedly wrote. “This is clearly not the case.”

The next day, Inhofe told Newsmax cap and trade has no chance of passing the Senate.

“Every time we bring this up again, the American people are more and more aware that this constitutes the largest tax increase in the history of this country, and so they are going to be voting it down,” Inhofe said. “On cap and trade, the Senate has voted on it so many times now, and each time they lose more and more support because people are aware that this is just another huge tax increase.”

How cap and trade could make a comeback

Just as there were two avenues to passing cap-and-trade legislation through the Senate, there are two routes that could bring it back to life.

The first, of course, is if Kerry and Lieberman can bring Graham back to the negotiation table.

Hours after Graham released his letter, the Times reports, Kerry released a statement calling 2010 the “best and perhaps last chance” for climate-change legislation and suggesting the delay was only a temporary postponement of progress.

Kerry also said the coalition was prepared to resume work should Graham be convinced to return.

“We will continue to work, and we will do everything necessary to be ready when the moment presents itself,” Kerry said.

The second avenue is to skip legislation altogether and enforce new climate regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency.

In December of last year, the EPA announced that six common gases pose a threat to American health and that the agency intended to start crafting regulations to reduce emissions of those gases, including carbon dioxide, the natural byproduct of burning and even breathing.

Then, last month, the EPA announced plans to “phase in” greenhouse-gas permit requirements for industrial facilities beginning in 2011.

In a released statement, the agency said it will “make a decision later this spring on the amount of [greenhouse gases] facilities can emit before having to include limits for these emissions in their permits.”

Then, earlier this month, the EPA released another set of new regulations on automobile emissions.

“Starting with 2012-model-year vehicles, the rules together require automakers to improve fleet-wide fuel economy and reduce fleet-wide greenhouse-gas emissions by approximately five percent every year,” the release explains.

By 2016, according to new regulations, automakers will be required to reach an estimated 34.1 miles per gallon on their combined industry-wide fleets. Manufacturers will also be required to reduce their combined average vehicle-emission levels to 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.

“These are the first national standards ever to address climate change,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy in the statement. “Over the coming years, America will witness an amazing leap forward in vehicle technologies, delivering fuel efficiency that will save us money and protect the environment.”

Voices in industry and the Senate, however, have expressed objections to the administration implementing emissions caps and regulations apart from the legislature.

“This adds more uncertainty and could impact how companies make decisions,” warned Keith McCoy, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Dan Riedinger of the Edison Electric Institute, a power-industry trade group, told USA Today that energy costs will “go up more under EPA regulation” than they would under congressional climate laws.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., told the Washington Post last year that the EPA’s involvement in regulating emissions would be “a blunt instrument that will severely hamper our attempts to bolster the economy and get Americans back to work.”

Even Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., an advocate of clean energy and curbing greenhouse gases, told the Post the EPA’s declaration of carbon dioxide as a pollutant to be regulated “will create burdens on American industry without providing any significant environmental benefits.”

“I strongly urge EPA to wait for Congress to find a solution,” she said.

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