On the Climate Bill Fence: What Michigan’s U.S. Senators Are Thinking

by Bill Chameides | August 20th, 2009
posted by Wendy Graber (Researcher)

Permalink | Comments Off on On the Climate Bill Fence: What Michigan’s U.S. Senators Are Thinking

Michigan’s dynamic duo insist on a level climate playing field both nationally and internationally.

The sixth in a series on what senators on the fence are thinking.

The League of Conservation Voters notes that both Senators Stabenow and Levin have a similarly favorable environmental voting record. And both have spoken in favor of climate legislation. (See here and here.) So what are they doing on the fence?

Much like their colleague from Ohio, the Michigan Senators favor climate legislation in a conditional sort of way. It’s okay as long as it protects American manufacturing from foreign competitors not operating under a carbon cap.  They’d also like funding to develop green technologies and clean energy for those very same manufacturers.

Stabenow sits on a number of key committees that this year’s climate legislation must pass through, namely Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Energy and Natural Resources and Finance.  Levin isn’t on any key committees, but does sit on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, which explains some of his interest in developing a green economy.

Senators Sitting on the Climate Bill Fence Series
Lamar Alexander (R-TN) »
Evan Bayh (D-IN)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH) »
Robert Casey (D-PA) »
Kent Conrad (D-ND) »
Byron Dorgan (D-ND) »
Russ Feingold (D-WI) »
Al Franken (D-MN) »
Lindsey Graham (R-SC) »
Tim Johnson (D-SD) »
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Dick Lugar (R-IN) »
John McCain (R-AZ) »
Arlen Specter (D-PA) »
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Their Records – He Said, She Said

He, Levin, in the Senate since 1978, has a mixed record on climate legislation that on the whole reflects his overriding concern for manufacturing and the potential for an unfair international greenhouse gas playing field.

On the other hand, she, Debbie Stabenow, who joined Levin in the Senate in 2000, has voted for every major climate bill or resolution.


He voted against the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 (S.139) stating that it would have created incentives for the

“loss of more manufacturing jobs to countries which have few, if any, environmental standards. …It’s not sound leadership to simply shift industrial emissions from American soil to countries which have no emissions standards. And it’s certainly not sound leadership to act unilaterally in a way that puts U.S. manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage when there is no built-in incentive for other countries to follow. In fact, the opposite is true: the unilateral approach in this bill provides an economic incentive for countries who are picking up our manufacturing jobs not to follow our lead.”

She voted for the Climate Stewardship Act stating “Although it failed to pass by a vote of 43-55,  this is the first time the Senate made a serious attempt to begin to deal with this looming problem.  This legislation would have provided a balanced approach to limiting emissions that are causing global warming.” Balance is what Stabenow appears to be looking for.


In 2005, he voted against adding the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act as an amendment to the energy bill, while she voted for it.

Since that time both senators have voted to support the various climate resolutions that have made it to the floor.  Until 2008.


Last year both he and she changed course, citing the economic factors of jobs and competitiveness. They along with 8 other democratic senators indicated in a letter that had the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 made it to the floor, they would have voted against passage.

“As Democrats from regions of the country that will be most immediately affected by climate legislation, we want to share our concerns with the bill that is currently before the Senate. We commend your leadership in attempting to address one of the most significant threats to this and future generations; however, we cannot support final passage of the Boxer Substitute in its current form.

We believe a federal cap and trade program must not only significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also ensure that consumers and workers in all regions of the U.S. are protected from undue hardship.”

This concern was echoed again in a letter sent last fall to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) laying out concerns about cap-and-trade. The letter [sub rq’d] signed by both makes the point that the costs of moving to a low-carbon economy must be shared equitably by all states.  It’s worth noting that many of the other democratic fence sitters are signators of this letter as well.

And in 2009?

But Senator Stabenow, a vocal supporter of green jobs and clean energy to revitalize Michigan’s sagging economy, has already done some of the heavy lifting when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 in June laying out clean energy initiatives that Senate leaders hope to roll into their version of Waxman-Markey.

But as the broad strokes of climate legislation have become more defined by Waxman-Markey from the House and initial work in the Senate, both Senators’ have distanced themselves from the bill.  In the words of Senator Levin,

“Any climate legislation that is enacted must not only significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, but also ensure the protection of consumers and workers, which requires taking into account regional differences that exist throughout the United States.”

Their latest group letter sent in early August to President Obama signed by 8 other rustbelt senators reinforces their requirement that “provisions to maintain a level playing field for American manufacturing” will be included in climate legislation coming out of the Senate.   If it doesn’t, the votes of Senators Levin and Stabenow probably won’t be yea.

Understandably, Levin and Stabenow are concerned about the economic vitality of their state, and in Michigan that means keeping the American auto industry (or what remains of it) afloat. But it also means making the American automobile industry competitive in the new low-carbon economy and it is not clear if that will that occur without climate legislation that places a strong financial incentive on building and buying fuel efficient cars. Regardless, one thing is certain: the Senate will not pass climate legislation this session without the support of the Michigan duo.

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