Journalists Mourn the Death of the Federal Climate Bill

I went ahead and titled this post in anticipation of there being a flurry of articles written on Senate Democrats pulling the plug on comprehensive climate change legislation — below are the first three I’ve seen in the last 45 minutes…..but first here’s my own take.

So what does this mean for California? The lack of federal support and direction as California tries to move forward with implementation of AB 32 and SB 375 in our own climate where Proposition 23 is gaining support to kill AB 32, a governor’s race could result in a moratorium on climate change implementation, possibility of major climate-related job loss worsens already shaky morale at the California Air Resources Board, an uncertain future for the State budget looms, and local governments have been forced to launch an “SOS” (save our services) campaign to restore funds that were raided by the same State that is “incentivizing” sustainable communities through the Strategic Growth Council.  With California’s maze of political and financial issues, the death of a comprehensive federal climate bill certainly does not help our efforts to engage the public and promote change here.  However, we should remember that it was the LACK of federal direction on climate change reform over the past decade that led California and 37 other states to develop Climate Action Plans.  The end of one effort should be taken as a signal to reassess political strategies and financial priorities, particularly in California where our goals have become greatly distanced from actual implementation success.  The lack of federal direction provides an excellent opportunity for the State of California to be forced into making creative and long-lasting changes in its funding structures and the land use/transportation and environmental processes that thread through the State’s transportation revenue system.  In any case, California needs to take action in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the same level of importance that was executed during the Clean Air Act in the 1970s, and regional/local governments need both financial and technical support to make substantive changes in land use planning today so that the compounding effects of GHG reduction can be realized for the State’s 2050 GHG goals.

More can be found on the California Trans&Climate Policy page and in Lauren Michele’s analysis of the implications of California’s existing regulatory frameworks as presented throughout Chapter 3 of the report: “Rethinking California’s Planning Frameworks to Support Senate Bill 375: A White Paper on Local, Regional, State and Federal Climate Change Policy Reform

Download PDF from Pew Center

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E&E Daily — Thursday, July 22 — www.eedaily.com

Senate Democrats today pulled the plug on comprehensive climate change legislation with their decision to move forward with a limited Gulf spill response and energy package. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) admitted the obvious today — they do not have the 60 votes to pass climate legislation. Reid placed the blame squarely on Republicans despite the fact that the 59-member Democratic caucus was never unified on cap and trade to begin with.

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Senate Democrats Abandon Comprehensive Climate Bill

By Perry Bacon Jr. – Washington Post Staff Writer – Thursday, July 22, 2010; 4:22 PM

Conceding they can’t find enough votes for the measure, Senate Democrats on Thursday abandoned efforts to put together a comprehensive energy bill that would seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions, delivering a potentially fatal blow to a proposal Democrats have long touted and President Obamacampaigned on.

Instead, Democrats will push for a more limited bill that would seek to increase liability costs that oil companies would pay following spills such as the onein the Gulf of Mexico and would create additional incentives for the development of natural gas vehicles and provide rebates to people who buy products that reduce home energy use. They did not release details of the proposal, but Senate Democrats said they expected to find GOP support and pass it in the next two weeks.

Democrats have not ruled out pushing for a more comprehensive bill when Congress returns from its August recess or in the session after the November elections, although it’s not clear that any of the Democrats or Republicans who now oppose a more expansive measure would change their votes. Republicans have long argued the bill, by seeking to limit emissions, would lead to higher energy costs for American consumers, a view some conservative Democrats have also taken.

The decision to abandon the proposal was another concession to the difficult political environment Democratic leaders face, as many rank and file congressional Democrats are wary of casting any vote that could be used in political attacks by Republicans.

Democrats who advocated the broader measure didn’t hide their disappointment in falling short. Carol Browner, who heads the White House’s Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, said, “obviously everyone is disappointed,’ while Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the primary author of the comprehensive bill, said the legislation Democrats will take up next week is “admittedly narrow.”

“We now where we are. We know we don’t have the votes,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.)

Reid blamed the GOP for blocking the bill, noting that no Republicans in the Senate had said they would back the bill. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who had helped write the comprehensive measure with Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Kerry, announced in June he would no longer back the measure, arguing Congress should pursue a smaller, more targeted measure.

But in truth, despite weeks of meetings to reach a compromise, Democrats themselves were deeply divided on the legislation.

Efforts to put together a major bill to limit carbon emissions and encourage the use of alternative energy sources had long been considered doomed in the Senate, even though the House approved last June a bill that would set a limit on overall emissions of greenhouse gases while allowing utilities and other emitters to trade pollution permits.

A group of Democrats whose states produce coal, such as Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) thought the bill could lead to increased energy costs in their states, while others worried about pushing such a controversial political issue after Democrats had already passed the stimulus and health-care bills.

But following the Gulf oil spill, President Obama sought to push the public and Congress to back comprehensive approach, making the case that the accident illustrated the importance of the U.S. reducing its dependence on oil. In a speech last month in Pittsburgh, he said, “The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.”

But in the weeks after the spill, Kerry, who had months ago stopped pushing the so-called cap and trade measure the House had passed, failed to win backing among his colleagues for a pared-back measure that would limit greenhouse gas emissions by electric utilities.

Kerry said Obama had pledged to stay involved and keep working for a broader bill, but the longtime senator’s remarks hinted at the challenge: he said it would pass “much sooner” than the decades it took his late colleague Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to get comprehensive health care bill through Congress.

The decision by Democrats means that two major issues they had pledged to take on this year, energy reform and immigration, could remain unresolved before the midterm elections.

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Democrats Pull Plug on Climate Bill

By: Darren Samuelsohn and Coral Davenport – July 22, 2010 01:01 PM EDT

Senate Democrats pulled the plug on climate legislation Thursday, pushing the issue off into an uncertain future ahead of midterm elections where President Barack Obama’s party is girding for a drubbing.

Rather than a long-awaited measure capping greenhouse gases — or even a more limited bill directed only at electric utilities — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will move forward next week on a bipartisan energy-only bill that responds to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and contains other more popular energy items.

“It’s easy to count to 60,” Reid said. “I could do it by the time I was in eighth grade. My point is this, we know where we are. We know we don’t have the votes [for a bill capping emissions]. This is a step forward.”

“He’s anxious to get something done before we leave in August,” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said of Reid. “Given the time constraints, this probably is a realistic judgment on his part.”

“We don’t have the 60 votes,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). “So Sen. Reid’s a pragmatist. So rather than take us to a situation where we don’t have the votes, rather than do half-measures, let’s wait until we can get it done and get it right. So I think it’s a smart decision.”

The bill headed to the floor will not include a carbon cap or a renewable electricity standard, Bingaman said. Instead, it has low-hanging-fruit provisions dealing with the oil spill, Home Star energy efficiency upgrades, incentives for the conversion of trucking fleet to natural gas and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) was visibly disappointed but said he isn’t giving up hope on getting “a decent bill” on climate within the next two weeks.

Still, he said, “the Republicans don’t want to cooperate on anything. On any of these major issues they vote no, and we’ve got to get some Republican votes because we don’t have unanimity in our caucus. So we’re still hoping they decide they want to govern instead of scoring political points.”

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) insisted that he, too, had hope for getting some kind of climate bill through the Senate in the next two weeks. He said he spoke with Obama Thursday and that the president had “committed to work at a more intensive pace” in the days ahead.

But the writing has been on the wall all week, with advocates lowering expectations in light of continued opposition from GOP senators and some moderate Democrats.

“I don’t believe an energy bill has ever passed off the floor in less than about three weeks,” Kerry said earlier Thursday during a town-hall style forum hosted by the Clean Energy Works, an umbrella advocacy organization that includes environmentalists, labor and religious groups. “The fact is this is a very complicated bill that has a lot of moving parts. I’m very realistic about that.”

“It’s not dying,” Kerry added. “It’s not going away…We’re going to try our best to find a way to do it in the next few weeks. If we can’t do it in the next weeks, we’ll do something that begins to do something responsibly in the short term. But this will stay out there, and we’ll be working on it; we’ll be asking you to talk to your senators and move them to understand why we have to get this done.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Kerry’s partner on the climate proposal, said he had no problem with Reid delaying debate on greenhouse gas caps. “If that’s the truth, it keeps the process open for negotiating a broader utilities-only bill in September,” he said.

Kerry and Lieberman are still working with the electric utility industry, including its lead trade group, the Edison Electric Institute, on a bill slicing its emissions around 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

But other Democrats have their doubts that Kerry and Lieberman will even get time for a floor debate after the August break, especially with Reid and other senators girding up for their own reelection bids.

“We’ve got very substantial constraints on our time when we get back,” Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico said Thursday.

“I don’t think there are going to be two energy packages on the floor this year,” said Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. “Whatever comes to the floor on energy is going to be the package we’re going to consider.”

Comments (1)

  1. Pingback: Policy in Motion » “SB 375 Implementation and CEQA” — Policy in Motion / Fehr & Peers Presentation on Wed July 28th in Sacramento

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