Tips for Pushing the Climate Bill Forward

The Kerry-Boxer climate bill is heading into hearings in the Senate Finance and Energy committees

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On Tuesday, hearings start in the Senate's finance and energy committees for the ambitious, threatened, and nominally Republican-endorsed Kerry-Boxer climate bill. Even supporters say the odds of passing climate legislation in the Senate aren't great, with Democrats divided and Republicans arrayed against it. But some take hope from the House's passage of a similar bill this summer, and the possibility of dangling the possibility of domestic oil drilling and nuclear-power subsidies to entice skeptical lawmakers. Here are the predictions of how this could this play out, along with a few climate legislation advocates' criticism and suggestions for the process:

  • Previous House Passage Will Help Washington Post domestic policy blogger Ezra Klein thinks that "[t]he fact that the House passed the bill and the president is ready to sign a bill means that it's really only the Senate standing in the way of serious legislation to address global warming, and that's not a position the Senate particularly wants to be in." Aside from this pressure in cap and trade's favor, he suspects it is "easier" for senators "to write legislation when they can sell their efforts as improving what the House has already done. After all, conservative Democrats can say, you don't want that bill, do you?" Thus, while he's "not saying that cap and trade has great odds this year ... whatever chance it does have is a function of Pelosi passing it back in June."
  • Focus on Cost and Trade "At the risk of stating the obvious," writes the Wall Street Journal's Keith Johnson, "the climate bill isn't going to live or die on its environmental cred--but rather on its cost." By cost, Johnson means cost to "consumers, businesses, and the economy as a whole." That means, for example, a focus on trade, which will be particularly problematic: "Ten Democratic senators have said they can't support a climate bill that doesn't shield U.S. manufacturers from 'unfair' foreign competition," for example by including carbon tariffs. Carbon tariffs, Johnson notes, were already included in the House bill but have not sat well with "the White House, the UN, and plenty of foreign governments ... The jury is still out on whether carbon tariffs violate World Trade Organization rules."
  • Cap and Trade Not Happening--Try Plan B Energy expert Robert Shapiro thinks it "clear that the Senate will not enact Kerry-Boxer or any other cap-and-trade system this year." Writing in the National Journal, he responds to the question of whether the energy and climate parts of the bill should be split up to facilitate passage: "In politics, it's usually better to take a half loaf than none; but since the other half of this loaf is the most important part, it comes down to whether climate reforms can pass without energy reforms." In his advice to those serious about this legislation, he proposes a "Plan B":
[T]he hard truth is that Congress is very unlikely to ever pass a cap-and-trade system. One reason is that economists have pointed out how a cap-and-trade system inevitably makes energy prices much more volatile, as it has in Europe ... businesses won't undertake the huge investments required to develop more climate-friendly fuels and technologies unless they can project their returns based on a stable price for carbon ... The first priority, therefore, should be to open up the debate to a "Plan B" that doesn't have cap-and-trade's serious drawbacks. Let's start with what has worked well in Scandinavia--a carbon-based tax, but one in which we also protect the economy by recycling the revenues in other forms of tax relief. If we can get that debate going, we may not have to pick and choose between climate and energy reforms.
  • Bill Will Be Fine Larry Schweiger, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, is more optimistic. "In the House," he observes, "the American Clean Energy & Security Act got more Republican support than the health insurance reform bill and economic recovery package combined. That was despite a massive campaign against it led by major polluters."
  • Bill Isn't that Great Anyway Echoing sentiments expressed more loudly by pair of EPA lawyers in the Washington Post, Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity argues that the bills under consideration have serious problems. "It isn't victory merely because the President signs a bill that says 'climate' (or 'energy') in it," he reminds environmental activists.
Even the Kerry-Boxer climate bill that passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has several debilitating flaws: first it does not set science-based pollution reduction standards (i.e., anything remotely close to 350 or even 450 ppm of CO2), second it does not aggressively go after methane reductions despite the technological ability to do so today at basically no cost, and third it waives the very portion of the Clean Air Act (i.e., the National Ambient Air Quality Standards or NAAQS) that could actually provide the tool to achieve science-based standards in a familiar way to various levels of government.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.