New Climate Team in the House – New Bill on the Way?

by Bill Chameides | January 14th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | Comments Off on New Climate Team in the House – New Bill on the Way?

Will a new Congress and new House leadership on environmental committees bode well for climate legislation? We will have to wait and see.

As the new 111th Congress swings into action, there’s buzz about the prospect for bold climate change legislation. Lest one get too enthusiastic, it’s instructive to reflect on the 110th Congress.

Flash back to January 2007. Flush from a victory that had put Democrats in control of Congress, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declared that something finally was going to happen on global warming. The first woman speaker — who spoke of “a new America that declares our energy independence, promotes domestic sources of renewable energy, and combats climate change” during her swearing-in speech — later laid out specifics: “I want a package of legislation through the committees by July 4 towards fully declaring our energy independence.” Stirring words and a bold commitment that never came to pass.

A Discussion Draft Nobody Discussed

The best the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the body tasked with writing the bill, could accomplish? The release of a “discussion draft” of a climate bill in October 2008? An interesting document to be sure, but its appearance one month before the election all but insured there would not be a whole lot of discussion of the draft.

No doubt the reasons the 110th Congress failed to act on climate are complex and numerous and even if it had drafted and passed a bill, it’s probable that President Bush would have vetoed it. And despite Speaker Pelosi’s bold promise, the House effort was probably doomed from the start.

The two congressmen then responsible for getting a climate bill to the House floor were Representatives John Dingell (D–MI), the Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rick Boucher (D–VA), the Chair of the Energy & Air Quality subcommittee. Both must have been severely conflicted. Dingell, from the 15th District of Michigan, is strongly allied with the automobile industry. Boucher comes from the 9th District of Virginia, an area dependent upon coal mining. It is hard to imagine a strong climate bill that does not require a significant shakeup in both the automobile and coal industries.

Leadership Changes in the House Could Mean Action on Climate

So that was then and this is now. With the new Congress comes new leadership – and a new subcommittee. Rep. Henry Waxman (D–CA) has replaced Dingell as chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Ed Markey (D–MA) is the new chair of the new Energy and Environment subcommittee, a combination of the former Energy & Air Quality panel and the Environment & Hazardous Materials panel. The change-up seems to signal a new era in environmental protection. Both congressmen have strong environmental records and are not tied politically to one particular industry.

The new leadership also seems to indicate that the 111th Congress is serious about getting climate legislation done this session. But Speaker Pelosi is giving mixed signals. Last week she indicated that despite enough support in the House to move a cap and trade bill, the House should proceed with caution. “I’m not sure this year, because I don’t know if we’ll be ready,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol. “We won’t go before we’re ready.” (Full story at E&E Daily, subscription required.) Perhaps most strange about her remarks was the word “mysterious”: “Of all the bills that we have done, you know I sort of know the policies, I know what the possibilities are, this is the most, should we say, controversial, not controversial, mysterious.” 

Should be an interesting session. I love a good mystery. Anybody want to hazard a guess as to when climate gets on the congressional agenda?

filed under: climate change, faculty, global warming
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