Update on Warner-Lieberman climate bill

“I don’t see us passing cap and trade,” Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) told E&E News (subs. req’d). “That’s a hard bugger to pass.”

And Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) have been struggling with the challenge of crafting compromise legislation on climate change, as the article makes clear:

The veteran senators emerged this summer as the most likely shepherds for a compromise global warming package, but in the process they’ve faced a chorus of criticism as they try to win enough votes. The left says their plan must be stronger and avoid any loopholes that favor U.S. industry, but any move in that direction could mean the loss of support from moderates and conservatives concerned about the economic costs of a new climate policy.

“That’s what we’re working on right now,” Lieberman said yesterday. “We can do it. We’re looking for that spot that represents progress but keeps everybody involved.”

Lieberman thinks he is within sight of crossing the all-important 60-vote threshold needed to move climate legislation through the Senate floor. But yesterday he said he is much more focused on a much earlier stage of the process.

“The first goal is to get four, on the way to 60,” Lieberman said, referring to the majority needed to move a bill out of the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee he chairs.

Lieberman’s subcommittee represents a diverse range of perspectives, including Montana Sen. Max Baucus, a moderate Democrat who has never voted for mandatory caps on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Other majority members include two of environmental movement’s strongest Capitol Hill allies: Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

On the Republican side sits Warner, Lieberman’s legislative cosponsor and a new convert in the debate over mandatory limits on U.S. emissions. The panel also includes Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), both expected “no” votes when a climate bill comes before the subcommittee.

Earlier this summer, Lieberman and Warner suggested limiting emissions to 2005 levels beginning in 2012, followed by a 10 percent cut in 2020 and a 70 percent reduction by mid-century. The Lieberman-Warner plan would cover industrial emissions that represent about 80 percent of total U.S. emissions every year.

Lieberman said yesterday that a formal bill introduction, as well as a subcommittee markup, is expected before the end of the month.

‘Nobody can push us’

Environmental groups have questioned Lieberman and Warner from the start for drafting a proposal that doesn’t reduce U.S. emissions fast enough, and some senators have spoken up on the issue too.

“There’s a couple of things I’d like to see strengthened,” Lautenberg said in an interview. “We’ve got our people meeting. I’m hoping we can come to something that I think is a basis for us getting together. I’d like to move it.”

In a letter to Lieberman and Warner, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and five other Democrats signaled yesterday what they would support.

“As you move from the outline of a specific legislative proposal, we urge you to craft a strong global warming bill that will reduce our country’s emissions enough to avert catastrophic climate change,” wrote Menendez, along with Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

The six senators called for a bill with an 80 percent cut in U.S. emissions by 2050, as well as “specific and aggressive interim targets.” They also urged rejection of price controls that limit the costs for compliance with the U.S. climate program and warned of the “significantly increased profits” for power companies and other heavy industry if Congress gives away cap-and-trade credits for free.

In the Lieberman-Warner proposal, more than half of the annual pollution credits — likely worth at least tens of billions of dollars — would be distributed for free to the power companies and manufacturers most directly confronted with new requirements. Electric utilities back free allowances, saying they will help industry ease into the transition to a low-carbon economy and allow the new energy technologies time to catch up with the regulations.

Emily Figdor of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group wants Congress to auction 100 percent of the allowances rather than give them away for free. And she urged Congress to move legislation that cuts U.S. emissions 15 percent by 2020, followed by an 80 percent cut by 2050.

“That’s what the science shows you need,” she said.

Asked if environmental groups would support a compromise with lower emission reductions, she replied, “We’re far past the point we can accept a weak bill that’s not going to get the job done.”

[So far, to me, the Lieberman-Warner bill seems to go pretty far. Targets for 2050 are so far away — and so certain to toughen as the reality of climate change becomes painfully clear to all in the next two decades — that I wouldn’t oppose a bill because it doesn’t quite hit an 80% reduction in 2050. The key point is to get off of the business-as-usual emissions path as soon as possible.]

Figdor also complained that the Lieberman-Warner draft does not cover all U.S. emissions, leaving out commercial buildings, agriculture and direct combustion of oil and natural gas from residences.

Lautenberg said it won’t be up to environmental groups to persuade him to reject a climate proposal if it doesn’t go far enough. “Nobody can push us,” he said. “I’ve been around a long time, and I don’t push very easily.”

Of PIRG and the Sierra Club, the four-term senator said, “They trust us.”

“This is something I want to get done, but I want to get it done right,” he added.

Wait until 2009?

With pundits predicting Democrats will win more House and Senate seats in November 2008 — plus a strong fundraising edge for the Democrats in the next White House contest — some environmental groups off Capitol Hill are weighing whether it would be better to hold off until after the elections in trying to move a climate change package.

“Some will want to do that, I’m sure,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Lieberman last week said he thinks industry would prefer a climate bill to move through Congress now while President Bush remains in office. And he predicted cap-and-trade legislation would become law by 2009, no matter who wins the White House.

Sanders said there’s little benefit in waiting for 2009 to move climate legislation.

“We can pass a strong bill now, and a stronger bill after the elections,” he said.

And Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said she has no plans to hold back. “No, not on my part,” she said. “We think it’s important to push it as far as we can get it.”

I agree with that. Better to have a pretty good being debated during the 2008 campaign, then just waiting until the election is over.

3 Responses to Update on Warner-Lieberman climate bill

  1. Earl Killian says:

    An important reason to pass a bill now rather than in 2009 is US industry. A bill passed today, even if vetoed, sends a strong message to Wall Street that, for example, coal power plant investments will lose money once there is a new administration. They will pull funding now, rather than later. That will make a difference.

  2. Nancy says:

    I can’t believe intelligent people who would actually take the time to research “global warming” would still buy into the biggest scam since the 70s when they tried the “gloom and doom” climate scenario which never panned out. Check out and read the factual outline by 31,000 SCIENTISTS! Carbon dioxide is good for the environment! That’s the same science they teach in 5th grade science class. The only truth about “global warming” is that a whole lot of people are going to make millions off the ignorant who drank the whole pitcher of Kool-Aid on this one!

  3. MeltyMan says:

    Can we get a list of the names of the Democrat party senators who opposed the bill?