Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Senate Needs to Pass a Climate Bill This Year

As the health care bill in the Senate nears final reconciliation, more focus can be put on the energy and climate agenda that has been stalled there for months. After the House passed sweeping climate legislation in June, the momentum was lost in the sluggish upper chamber, where a supermajority must nominally be in agreement in order to prevent a filibuster and pass any legislation. This is the fact that served to drastically water down the Senate version of the health care bill and will likely do that same, or worse, to the Senate climate bill.

Currently, there are several iterations of climate/energy legislation in the Senate. The energy bill that has passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (ACELA), has been stalled there, pending possible incorporation of climate mitigation provisions (or, more likely, absorption of certain ACELA provisions into a climate bill). ACELA has at least some bipartisan support, having been approved by Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Bob Corker (R-TN), and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), along with the 11 Democrats on the committee.

Then there are the two-and-a-half climate bills on the table in the Senate. The first is the one co-sponsored by Kerry and Boxer, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (CEJAPA). This was the bill that much of the hype was centered on following the passage of the House bill (ACES), but which seems to have gone nowhere fast. Another is the Cantwell-Collins bill, the Carbon Limits and Energy for American Renewal (CLEAR) Act. CEJAPA is modeled much more closely after the successful House bill, but seems to be going nowhere fast, while CLEAR not only has bipartisan co-sponsorship, but has been praised by many groups for its simplicity and seeming fairness.

The “half” bill is the Graham-Kerry-Lieberman so-called “tripartisan” compromise, which has not actually manifested in the three months of hype surrounding it. While it will certainly receive the support of Senator Graham, however, it will be very difficult to muster the support of other Republicans, who seem to have taken a party-line stance firmly opposing carbon-reducing public policy. Senator Graham has taken some very brave actions in standing up to South Carolina tea-bagger conservatives, while other moderate Republicans—and unfortunately, a sizeable number of Democrats—have been giving less-than-impressive indications of their position on climate legislation.

Many Republicans have cited the health care bill process as grounds for opposing any climate legislation, taking a sort of kindergarten/playground “that’s what you get!” approach to lawmaking. Meanwhile, Senator Murksowski is trying to pass an amendment to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases without a Congressional bill, which would eliminate the pressure on Republicans and moderates to pass a bill at all.

While most Senate Democrats are still on board with the notion of a climate bill passing this year, many have begun to backtrack in the wake of health care legislation. And while Joe Romm writes off extensive reporting on their misgivings as being spurious, it should still be alarming to see statements from so many Democrats expressing doubt about a bill’s passage when 60 votes are needed. Even Democratic Senators who intimately understand the nation’s climate and energy issues have suggested that there will be no bill this year. With so many Republicans dead set against any sort of climate bill (of 178 House Republicans, 8 voted for the bill there), broad Democratic support is crucial. Moreover, this year is likely a peak in Democratic strength in the House and Senate, as Republicans are projected to make gains in the November elections in both houses.

A report released by the National Wildlife Federation in late December shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans support climate legislation. And what’s more important than what the majority of Americans think (sorry, ideal democracy), the United States needs to prove to the rest of the world that it really will take a leadership role on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, or the other main perpetrators will never follow suit. The US Senate is so enmeshed in childish politics that it doesn’t seem to pay any heed to science or reality. But the reality is, climate change is already taking its toll. And a final bill needs to be passed this year, bar none.

Images: Senators Bingaman and Murkowski (, Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman (, Senator Mary Landrieu (Politico)


  1. its not going to happen until after the midterm elections. cool blog

  2. It's not going to happen after the midterm elections. Thanks.