U.S. Senate Takes on Climate Change

As six Senate committees take up climate legislation, much work remains to be done to gain support for a strong climate bill. Climate champions in the Senate are plotting their next moves this month, in hopes of producing legislative text after the August recess. Committee chairs will be working with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to craft sections of the bill that can win support from moderates without losing key progressive votes or legislative integrity, while opponents continues to employ traditional strategies to block progress and whip up public opposition to climate action. Strong grassroots pressure will be key for supporting strong policy proposed by climate champions, as well as for preventing serious weakening.Climate legislation will remain in the Environment and Public Works Committee until Congress returns from its summer recess in September. Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has made it clear that she no longer intends to mark up the bill before the recess begins on August 7. This move gives negotiators and their aides an extra month to work on producing a strong, effective bill and will give Boxer more time to work on legislative text.The delay was agreed to in a meeting between Boxer; Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Carol M. Browner, the White House coordinator of energy and climate policy. Reid had originally declared a deadline of Sept. 18 for all committees to finish their work on the bill. That deadline is now Sept. 28.Boxer’s bill will be modeled on the American Clean Energy and Security Act that narrowly passed the House in June, which would cap greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global warming and create a system for buying and selling emissions permits. However, Boxer is facing an uphill battle.Senate Committee BreakdownEnvironment and Public Works (EPW): EPW is the primary committee of jurisdiction with respect to the climate bill, and contains a strong block of climate champions. Despite the shift in timing, a strong piece of legislation is still expected from EPW, although the potential outcome of having an EPW bill used to frame the work of other Committees loses some of its potency. Still, grassroots groups will now have more time to work with the Committee to produce a strong bill by September, and opponents will have less fodder to work with over the August recess. Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has expressed particular interest in strengthening short term emissions reduction targets, and exploring the possibility of doing more to regulate new and old coal plants.Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Arlen Specter (D-PA) are key members to woo in the Chairwoman’s plan to strengthen the 2020 emissions reduction target beyond ACES (potentially from 17% to 20%). Their votes are not essential to Committee passage, but having unified Democratic support for stronger targets would be valuable as the bill moves towards the floor. EPW held their first hearing on climate last week. Democratic members voiced strong support for climate action, while the most contentious issue from Republican senators appeared to be the important role nuclear could play in legislation. NRDC provided strong testimony in support of strengthening the bill’s short term emissions reduction targets, efficiency mandates, regulation of existing and new coal plants, and offset and biomass integrity.Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar also testified to the necessity of bold climate legislation this year. In contrast, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour continued to perpetuate a “do nothing” message for climate change, in addition to promoting oil, gas, and coal as core members of an environmental solution.Finance Committee: Finance also held their first hearing on trade provisions last week. Trade is one of two key areas of jurisdiction for this committee (the other being allocations), and further hearings are expected before August. The key issue being debated by the Committee is whether to address trade and the environmental impact of imports / exports in domestic legislation, or leave it to an international treaty that will be discussed in Copenhagen in December and by the World Trade Organization. Sen. Grassley (R-IA) voiced concerns over the international sanctions that foreign countries could bring upon America if an energy bill to address trade through border measures or incentives were passed, while Foreign Relations Chairman Kerry (D-MA) articulated the potential for jobs to “leak” overseas if the environmental impact of domestic sectors were to be addressed without some international component. Chairman Baucus released a comment in support of Sen. Grassley. Sen. Kerry is working on trade provisions with Sen. Boxer different from both the ACES measures (a carbon tariff after 2025 on imports from countries without enforced climate legislation or emissions reductions commitments), and those included in Lieberman-Warner-Boxer.Agriculture Committee: Like the House, Senate “Ag” committee members are planning to stake a major claim in an energy bill. Members have committed to including all provisions from the deal struck with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), and will seek further farm and ethanol friendly provisions. Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) will lead the charge, with key support coming from Sens. Conrad (D-N.D.), Lincoln (D-AR) and Stabenow (D-MI). These Senators could provide key votes if sufficient compromise is made, but lawmakers will have to be cautious of the impacts changes could have on the agricultural landscape (especially in the context of biomass and biofuels).Foreign Relations Committee: Foreign Relations also held their first hearing last week on trade provisions (in the context of lessons learned from the European carbon trading scheme). Concerns were similar to those voiced in the Finance hearing, and will likely be explored further once the details of the Boxer-Kerry trade provision are made clear.The GRN will continue to provide you with updates as climate legislation makes its way through the Senate. We are also currently working to engage as many folks as possible in the coming weeks and months because grassroots pressure will be key. Please be on the lookout for action alerts and important events. If you would like to volunteer, need more information, please don’t hesitate to give us a call or email.Jonathan Henderson is the 1Sky organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network. For more information, email jonathan@healthygulf.org.

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