Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that he would try to bring a global warming bill to the floor before the end of summer, another indication that both sides of Capitol Hill want to send major climate legislation to President Obama during his first year in office.
"We have to take a whack at it," the Nevada Democrat told the Associated Press in an interview, explaining that failure to act "would be neglectful."
Reid repeated his plans to take up a more limited energy proposal during the next six-week work period that includes a national renewable electricity standard. But turning to the more complex climate issue, he added, "And then later this year, hopefully late this summer, do the global warming part of it."
Reid's comments to AP mark the first time he has disclosed a timetable for the next big floor debate on climate change. Earlier this month, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told reporters she would move a global warming bill out of committee before the end of the year, but she deferred to Reid when asked about a floor schedule.
Reid's plans also dovetail with those of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has pledged a first-ever floor vote this year on a climate bill. Pelosi has said she will work from a comprehensive energy and climate package that House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) plans to mark up before Memorial Day. Pelosi is also expected to have help from the House Ways and Means Committee and several other panels that are holding hearings and considering legislation on the twin issues of global warming and energy policy.
"We have to set goals in order to get work done," a Senate Democratic aide explained today about the leadership's aggressive schedule for moving a climate bill.
Democrats and Obama face many obstacles in trying to move a climate bill. Advocates likely are within sight of a majority of votes, but it will take considerable deal-making among Democrats, let alone trying to win over a few Republicans. Heated regional debates are expected over the legislation's economic effects, as well as international trade and where and how to distribute what may amount to hundreds of billions of dollars in emission allowances.
"Given our economic challenges and the need to develop an energy strategy, I think attempting to do a climate change bill at the same time is unrealistic and frankly unadvisable," warned Marc Morano, a spokesman for Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).
At this point, it is unclear exactly what type of global warming bill the Democratic leaders want to move this year—and in what sequence with energy. While Reid wants to keep energy and climate separate, Waxman has said he is inclined to bunch the two items together into one measure.
Speaking with reporters last week, Waxman said he had not yet discussed strategy for global warming and energy legislation with the Obama administration. "I'd be interested in their recommendations, but we'll have to make our own decisions," he said.
Cap and trade or carbon tax? Another large question looming over Democrats is whether to advance cap and trade or a carbon tax.
Boxer, Pelosi and Waxman have all said they support cap-and-trade legislation. But according to the Washington Post, Reid yesterday left the door open on that critical question, which divides economists, environmentalists and a range of other vested interests.
"That could involve cap and trade or a carbon tax," Reid said in remarks published on the newspaper's Web site.
Obama yesterday indicated his preference for cap and trade but seemed to leave some wiggle room, too. "There are going to be a number of different ways to go after this problem," Obama said during a press conference in Ottawa with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "You know, we've suggested a cap-and-trade system. There are other countries who've discussed the possibilities of a carbon tax."
The president's interest in climate legislation is also becoming increasingly clear.
Earlier this week, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters that she was close to issuing an "endangerment finding" that links public health threats to climate change, a precursor to a series of federal regulations designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions across multiple sectors of the economy.
The Obama administration also must gear up for U.N.-led negotiations on a global warming treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol—with talks resuming next month in Bonn, Germany, and concluding in December in Denmark. Speaking in Canada yesterday, Obama stressed that the U.N. deadline was driving his agenda.
"We have to complete our domestic debate and discussion around these issues," he said. "My hope is, is that we can show leadership so that by the time the international conference takes place in Copenhagen that the United States has shown itself committed and ready to do its part."
And regardless of the policy, Obama insisted yesterday that he wanted to see a global warming debate—even in the face of severe economic distress.
"I think there's no country on Earth that is not concerned about balancing dealing with this issue on the environmental side and making sure that, in the midst of a severe recession, that it's not having too much of an adverse impact on economic growth and employment," Obama said.
Interest groups react Environmental groups welcomed Reid's signal to begin action on a climate bill, with one prominent activist offering up visions of a climate bill signing ceremony in 2009.
"We applaud the majority leader for announcing a schedule that would enable Congress to deliver a bill for the president's signature before the end of the year," said David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center.
Tony Kreindler, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, said Reid's comments underscore the frenzied few months ahead, which will require action from Boxer and several other critical Senate panels.
"If there were any question about the Senate moving forward aggressively, this is the starting gun not only for Environment and Public Works but all the committees that have a role in developing the climate bill," Kreindler said.
But industry lobbyists are not so sure Reid and Democrats will be successful, given the current economic situation and other obstacles to moving a global warming bill.
"We have so many burdens on our manufacturing sector," said William Kovacs, vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "To impose substantially higher energy costs at a time when we're having a difficult time keeping jobs is a recipe for shear economic disaster. We've got enough problems. Just take a break."
Scott Segal, an industry attorney, predicted "substantial activity" on a climate bill this year.
"Whether that activity will yield a bill ready for the president to sign by end of the year clearly remains to be seen," Segal said. "The Congress must do its homework on any climate change legislation. Without sufficient cost containment, technological assumptions and international provisions, a climate change bill has the potential to reverse the stimulus the Congress just enacted while failing to achieve environmental objectives."
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500