Senate Committee Finishes Hearings, Plans Markup Start

November 14, 2007


After years of wrangling, and little significant action, federal legislative efforts addressing greenhouse gases and climate change are beginning to crystallize.

There have been about a dozen competing bills this year. Highlights of seven are included in a Pew Center on Global Climate Change chart.

One, introduced in the Senate by Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA) and supported by eight cosponsors, has emerged as a leading candidate (search Thomas for S 2191, "America's Climate Security Act of 2007").

The bill emphasizes a complex cap-and-trade system covering about 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions generated in the country, targeting electric power, transportation, manufacturing, and natural gas sources. Commercial and residential sources aren't directly capped, but the bill calls for improved energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances.

There is no formal companion legislation in the House, but there are two analogous bills introduced in 2007 that call for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. One (HR 1590), introduced by Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), has 146 cosponsors. Another (HR 620), introduced by John W. Olver (D-MA), has 131 cosponsors. The many House members who have sponsored one or the other are listed by the National Wildlife Federation.

Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, likely will be a key driving force behind whatever bill may come out of the House (release). So will Rick Boucher (D-VA), chair of House Energy's Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality (release;includes an Oct. 3, 2007, "white paper").

In the Senate, the Committee on Environment and Public Works has 10 Democrats and Independents and 8 Republicans whose votes are up for grabs (list of Committee members). The panel has been holding hearings on the Lieberman-Warner bill, and other hearings are occurring this week.

At the Nov. 8, 2007, hearing, chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was largely supportive of the bill, but said in her introductory remarks that it still needs some strengthening, and acknowledged that an imperfect compromise bill likely will be the best achievable result. Video and written testimony.

Ranking Republican James Inhofe (OK) was highly critical of the bill in his opening remarks, saying it is moving too fast, without any analysis from the Bush administration, and that it will impose terrible economic costs and job losses that will be disastrous to our way of life. He also says the bill will be inconsequential without similar commitment from countries such as China and India.

Witnesses at the hearing represented groups and organizations such as Pacific Gas & Electric and the World Resources Institute.

Nov. 13, 2007, hearing included witnesses representing groups and organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, OGE Energy Corp., and the AFL-CIO.

Witnesses for the Nov. 15, 2007, hearing include representatives from Environmental Defense, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the state of Washington, and others.

The Committee may try to haggle out a compromise bill by about Dec. 3, 2007. That date marks the beginning of a 12-day international meeting in Bali, Indonesia, to continue negotiations on an update of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Boxer is planning to attend.

The full Senate may begin its discussions on the bill, or a hybrid derived from it, in early 2008. The House is likely to trail a little behind for a while at each stage.

As it stands, the Lieberman-Warner bill would set a national cap on the targeted greenhouse gases, then set up a permit system for the covered emitters, who could decide how to meet their individual targets. Those who exceed their cap could either figure out how to cut back, or buy credits for the excess emissions from those who have capacity to spare, at whatever rate the market sets.

The overall cap would slowly ratchet down emissions from 2012, when the system would go into effect, until 2050, when there would be an anticipated 65% reduction from 1990 levels. That sharp drop is expected to avert only the worst fallout from climate change, and would come up short of the 80% reduction recommended by many scientists.

The total emissions drop could be slightly higher than 65%, since states are allowed to set more stringent emission reduction targets. There is also a provision that allows for future target adjustments based on the developing science. At the same time, if the economic costs are too high, the system could be adjusted. For instance, an interim cap could be deferred a few years to slow down the transition.

All the tradeoffs embedded in the bill have generated sometimes unexpected alliances and rifts among many of the players.

On the Senate Committee, those who are generally supportive, after getting language addressing some of their major concerns added, includeFrank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Max Baucus (D-MT).

One member not yet on board is Tom Carper (D-DE), who would like to see added requirements for concurrent reductions of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and mercury (release). His push for this approach may be one deciding factor in whether the Committee approves the bill, says Clean Air Watch's Frank O'Donnell, 202-302-2065. If Carper doesn't succeed, he may not vote for the bill, and the vote count is close enough that one vote could sink it. If he does succeed, he may trigger others now in favor to vote against it.

Another critic of the current bill is Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who says that the targets aren't stringent enough and that the bill doesn't adequately address renewable energy sources (release, see "Global Warming" paragraph).

Committee members who remain largely unsupportive of the bill include George Voinovich (R-OH), David Vitter (R-LA), and John Barasso (R-WY). Release.

One environmental group generally supportive of the bill is Environmental Defense: release; Tony Kreindler, 202-572-3378.

NRDC is getting behind the bill, with hopes that it may be made more rigorous and inclusive on some counts, and provided it isn't diluted as negotiations continue: releases of Nov. 1, and Oct. 24, 2007.

One of the environmental critics is Friends of the Earth, which says that portions of the bill are "truly obscene," such as provisions giving away billions of dollars worth of free emission credits for many years to major polluters such as coal-fired power plants (release).

The Sierra Club is also critical of free emission credits, as well as a number of other provisions in the bill (release).

Arguments about free emission credits could overlap both the Senate and presidential candidate debates. For instance, Barack Obama (D-IL), a former member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, says he would include 100% of the designated participants in the auctions for credits, prohibiting any free emission credits: "Promoting a Healthy Environment."

Industry critics of the bill, usually on economic grounds, include:

  • US Chamber of Commerce, which is lobbying its members to urge their Senator to vote "no" on the bill. Background on climate change stance.
  • National Association of Manufacturers, whose Oct. 15, 2007, policy position on climate change contains many statements in direct opposition to portions of the bill (under "Key Documents," see "Official Policy Positions: Environmental Quality," page 14).
  • American Chemistry Council, which says the proposed changes would occur too fast, causing major economic damage (release).

However, some large companies, such as Exelon Corp. (an electric utility that includes nuclear and natural gas in its portfolio) and Pacific Gas and Electric Co., are supportive of the bill so far (Lieberman release).

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