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Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, was in St. Louis for a conference on Friday and met with a few bloggers to talk about the energy bill that the Senate is about to consider. He’s been lobbying on environmental issues for thirty years, and he says that though the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill is not perfect, it is absolutely essential that Congress pass it.

And what is the outlook for getting it through the Senate? Karpinski says that about 45 Democratic senators are definitely on board, with the predictable two Republicans, Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, both of Maine, likely also to vote in favor. Another 25 Democrats are squishy. We’ll need 13-15 of them for cloture. (Karpinski noted that there are actually two cloture votes. The first is a vote just to bring the bill up for discussion. That’ll be an easy hurdle. The second, once it’s been amended and discussed, is the tough one, the vote on whether to vote on the bill.) And, of course, once we have the second cloture, all we need is 51 yea votes.

As far as bringing enough of the 25 squishies around to achieve cloture, the strategy is to do lots of educating them, and to give those who’d like to vote in favor of the bill but who worry about political consequences some cover. Russ Carnahan can testify that the Republicans will be applying all the heat they can, and you can be sure that McCaskill knows about what’s been happening to him. That may explain her ill-advised tweet. She took a ton of heat on Twitter about her silly notion that ACES offers no help offsetting the cost of cap and trade to a coal using state like Missouri. Call that back chat part of her education.

But we can and should also offer her political cover.

It can come in the form of smart framing. Karpinski stresses that, in this bad economy, we should talk first about what investing in green energy will do to brace our economy and to create jobs. Then we should push the idea that getting away from oil dependence is a national security issue. Only last should we focus on the most important issue: slowing climate change. In short, many voters pay more attention to their own pocketbooks than to anybody preaching about tree hugging.

The other part of political cover is to debunk the lies Republicans keep repeating. No, “cap and tax” won’t cost families $3100 a year. They are misrepresenting an MIT study when they say so, and they ignore even the author of the study, when he says that they should stop citing that figure. The Congressional Budget Office has more accurate data. CBO puts the cost of cap and trade at about $170 a year per family, and that’s before the savings that will come with more energy efficiency.

Instead of letting voters figure that it would be nice to save the planet except that it would cost too much, we need to show them that saving the planet will, literally, pay off.