Start Counting the Votes for a Climate Bill

by Bill Chameides | February 24th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | Comments Off on Start Counting the Votes for a Climate Bill

The signals from the Obama administration are that a cap-and-trade bill on climate is on the way, but is Congress ready?

During the presidential campaign both candidates pledged to make the nation a leader in addressing global warming. Part of those promises (see here and here) was to pass comprehensive climate legislation that would establish a hard and ever-tightening cap on greenhouse gas emissions. (By July 2008, I should note McCain’s support for cap and trade was noticeably absent from his economic plan.)

Once Obama was elected, the severity of the economic meltdown seemed to throw a potential monkey wrench into the global warming fix, prompting a question in environmental circles: would the administration point to the fiscal crisis as a reason to duck the climate change issue?

The answer appears to be no. Despite our economic troubles, the administration’s recent statements and actions suggest that all systems are go on moving forward on the climate front.

  1. Climate Czar Carol Browner States Preference for Law

    Browner announced on Sunday that the Obama administration will pursue regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts vs. EPA. But she also made clear that moving on this front should not be mistaken as a substitute for legislation.

    Browner reportedly said that “the administration prefers that Congress draft legislation rather than CO2 to be regulated under the Clean Air Act because lawmakers could develop a bill that could more deftly regulate the greenhouse gas through a cap-and-trade system.”

  2. Proposed Budget to Include Cap-and-Trade Revenues

    The news outlets are abuzz with reports on Obama’s first budget. The president promises that his plan will cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. How? By reportedly calling for a number of spending cuts and tax increases. The budget also projects revenues from the sale or auction of emission credits from a cap-and-trade system. As reported in the New York Times:

    “On energy policy, Mr. Obama’s budget will show new revenues by 2012 from his proposal to require companies to buy permits from the government for greenhouse gas emissions above a certain cap. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the permits would raise up to $300 billion a year by 2020.”
  3. Even Secretary of State Clinton Gets into the Act

    On Sunday Secretary Clinton completed her first tour as Secretary of State. One of her main messages in China was not the usual stuff of foreign relations discussions. It was the need to get serious on global warming: “dig the well before you go thirsty,” Clinton said, intoning an apt Chinese proverb; she also announced in no uncertain terms that “one of the most important tracks will be clean energy and climate change.” It’s unlikely that the administration would talk up global action on global warming without an expectation that the United States would soon have its own policy.

Is Congress on the Same Page?

Of course, laws don’t happen because the president says so; both houses of Congress have to make them official. So where do things stand on that front?

The leadership is signaling Congress is ready. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is pushing for climate change legislation soon and in early February even offered a preview of key elements. She told reporters, “We are not sitting back and waiting for some magic moment. We’re ready to go.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated that he would try to get a global warming bill to the floor before the end of summer. This dovetails with House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) pledge to bring climate legislation to the House floor for the first time ever.

How the Votes Are Shaping Up in Congress

However, the prognosis for the rest of Congress is not nearly so sanguine. Energy & Environment Daily  has been counting likely votes on a climate bill. Here is the group’s latest assessments.

For Undecided Against
U.S. House (need 218 for passage) 163 126 146
U.S. Senate (need 60 for cloture to end debate) 35 43 22

Source: House [pdf] and Senate [pdf]

It would appear that a lot more work is needed in both Houses to garner the necessary votes. So get the numbers and e-mail addresses of your representatives handy (find your senator and/or representative) – they’ll need to be hearing from you soon.

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