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Timeline Pushed Back for Mark-Up of Senate Climate Change Bill

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, last week pushed back her timeline for completing mark-up on climate change legislation to early September.

Boxer initially had said she wanted the committee to complete work on the bill and vote it out to the Senate floor by the Aug. 7 recess, but she postponed it to give herself more time to work on her legislative text and to give senators breathing room to digest the complex issues, as well as to grapple with heath-care legislation.

The delay is a " recognition that there are so many things going on in the Senate that it wasn't realistic to get the committee focused on highly contentious issues before the August break," said Martin Edwards, vice president of legislative affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA).

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also recognized the need for more time, giving six jurisdictional committees 10 more days -- until Sept. 28 -- to complete work on the comprehensive energy and climate change bill.

"There is a case to be made that delay definitely signals a problem, but we believe it is too early to definitively make that call," said energy analyst Christine Tezak of Robert W. Baird & Co.

Tezak gives climate change legislation, which is based on a cap-and-trade system, a 30% chance of getting to the president's desk this year. The Senate is expected to debate climate change on the floor this fall, assuming there is no conflict with the debate on health-care legislation.

"We view this delay as a slight positive" because it will give Boxer and Democratic leaders more time to strike deals, said energy analyst K. Whitney Stanco of Washington Research Group.

"In order to gain the 60 votes needed for passage, Boxer and other Democratic leaders will need to strike compromises with fence-sitters, much like House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) did with members of his committee. We believe Democratic leadership in the Senate would like to have as many deals brokered as possible before the legislation is marked up in committee," she said. In the end, however, Stanco puts the odds of climate change legislation clearing the Congress this year at 35%.

"It's going to be very challenging" to get climate change legislation through the Senate this year, agreed INGAA's Edwards. If the bill should clear the chamber, it will be "especially difficult to get a conference agreement back in a short amount of time," he noted.

"We don't know yet" whether Reid plans to combine the climate change bill with the broad energy bill that was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June, or offer them concurrently, Edwards said (see NGI, June 22). He believes it would be a "little bit easier" to get the omnibus energy bill through the Senate as a stand-alone measure.

Four members of Obama's Cabinet expressed their support for climate change legislation in the inaugural Senate committee hearing on the issue last Tuesday.

Even if major polluters China and India refuse to accept carbon emission-reduction targets, unilateral efforts by the United States to cut emissions would make a significant difference in global warming, said Obama administration officials.

"It's very obvious that China has said they are not going to be involved in this thing...We also know that closely behind them India will not do anything...If the United States unilaterally adopts a climate bill, will it make any material change in terms of climate temperature?" asked Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

"Yes, it would," responded Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He noted that China and the U.S. account for roughly half of the carbon dioxide emissions in the world.

"I'd say 'yes,'" said Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. "The race is on for us to enter into a clean energy future."

Chairman Boxer called the hearing the "kick-off of [an] historic Senate effort" on the issue of climate change. She indicated she would use the recently passed House 'cap-and-trade' bill as a foundation for her legislative proposal (see NGI, June 29a).

Republican members of the committee made clear their support for nuclear energy. "Why are we ignoring [the] cheap energy solution, which is nuclear?" asked Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). This is the "fastest way to reduce global warming," he said.

Chu agreed that existing nuclear facilities operate safely, and that they produce 70% of the carbon-free electricity in the U.S. "Actually, from me you're not going to get any reluctance" on nuclear, he said.

"We say 'yes' to an all-of-the-above" energy policy, including nuclear, clean coal, natural gas and geothermal, said Inhofe. He echoed the arguments of Republicans in the House that a cap-and-trade system would be a major tax on energy.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) called on the Senate not to repeat what it believes are mistakes in the House bill. "As the Senate begins its important work on climate legislation, lawmakers have an opportunity and obligation to get things right for consumers, businesses and our struggling economy. Copying the mistakes of the flawed House approach will not contribute to a comprehensive energy policy that creates jobs, grows the economy and addresses climate change," said API President Jack Gerard.

Boxer took issue with a claim made by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) that EPA officials suppressed an internal report that didn't support the agency's position that greenhouse gases (GHG) contribute to air pollution and endanger public health. The EPA was alleged to have dismissed an analysis by a senior career economist in EPA's National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE) that was critical of its proposed endangerment finding (see NGI, June 29b).

"I don't believe it, but he's [Barrasso] saying that EPA has dismissed or suppressed scientific material related to the endangerment finding," said Boxer. "I think that is a brutal charge."

Jackson said "transparency and scientific integrity will be cornerstone principles of my time at EPA and they will guide our actions." She noted that the economist was given permission and encouraged to speak his mind on the endangerment issue. In fact, Jackson said his views were reflected in the EPA finding about the danger of GHG emissions (see Daily GPI, April 20).

Barrasso said he called on the Oversight Subcommittee to conduct an investigation into the EPA endangerment finding.

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