The climate bill by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) is NOT the greatest thing since sliced bread, but with improvements it wouldn’t be bad. And right now, it looks like it is the only bill with the mojo to make it through the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.
E&E Daily (subs. req’d) report the bill is gaining key support:
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) added momentum to global warming legislation yesterday when he announced his support for a bill that proposes to set mandatory caps on heat-trapping emissions.
“It’s not too far to the left, not too far to the right,” Baucus said [of the Lieberman-Warner bill]. “It’s balanced, therefore it’s most likely to succeed.”
Baucus represents a key swing vote on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and his support moves Lieberman and Warner within sight of the one-vote majority necessary to pass their bill, S. 2191, “America’s Climate Security Act,” during a subcommittee markup next Thursday.
The rest of the story, with more details on the likely prospects for votes in EPW and comments by industry, follows:
Previously, Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had kept silent on where he would fall on the latest iteration of climate legislation. The five-term senator has never voted for a mandatory cap for carbon dioxide or five other primary greenhouse gases.
Baucus said there is a “moral responsibility” to address climate change with regulations in the United States. And he endorsed provisions in the legislation that promote continued use of coal, a significant resource in his home state, through the capture and storage of CO2.
Lieberman and Warner both acknowledged the significance of winning over Baucus given the numerous splits that exist among other Democratic, Republican and independent members on the full committee and their seven-member climate change subcommittee.
“It is a tremendous boost to our efforts to get a real solution passed in this Congress,” Lieberman said following Baucus’ announcement.
Warner recalled Baucus’ role in the 1990 Senate-House conference negotiations over the last amendments to the Clean Air Act. “We’re very honored to have you join us,” said Warner, himself a five-term senator, who plans to retire in January 2009.
Debate not over
But the debate over Lieberman-Warner is far from over as the lead sponsors still need one more yes vote in the EPW subcommittee.
Two senators on that panel from the left signaled they are still not happy with the legislation and could pose problems as Lieberman and Warner try to move their bill.
“The issue is one of physics, and it is one of chemistry and what the best scientists in the world believe is happening to our planet because of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Sanders listed several problems he sees with the Lieberman-Warner bill and called for tougher emission caps in 2020 and 2050. And he insisted on a 100 percent auction of allowances by 2025 as opposed to the bill’s current 2036 target date for a full auction.
The Vermont independent also questioned the Lieberman-Warner bill’s provisions allowing offset projects for up to 15 percent of the program’s compliance. Sanders said he didn’t trust the verifying and tracking of emission reductions through such projects.
In an interview as he left the hearing, Sanders wouldn’t say how he would vote during next week’s markup. “I’m going to be working as hard as I can to make it a stronger bill,” he said. “We’ll see what happens when we do the markup.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) did not attend the hearing because he was managing a transportation bill on the Senate floor. But his office released a statement outlining changes he wants made before he would add his subcommittee vote.
Like Sanders, Lautenberg insisted on stronger emission targets and a larger auction.
Besides Warner, the EPW subcommittee’s includes two other Republicans: Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.). In their statements and questions, both signaled interest in addressing the climate issue but held back from declaring support for the at-issue bill.
Full committee prospects?
Addressing reporters after the hearing, Warner said he didn’t expect to make many changes to the bill during the subcommittee markup. Instead, he predicted significant amendments during a full committee markup.
Asked what was needed to win another vote, Warner replied, “I’ve got to be very sensitive about answering your question because there are colleagues who still have it under consideration. And I always refrain from trying to boast. But I’m optimistic.”
Still, there is little doubt that a heated debate awaits the full EPW Committee.
Senate EPW Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) missed the hearing to be in Southern California to see the state’s raging wildfires. But her staff released a letter where she described a series of hearings and briefings that will proceed a still-unscheduled full committee markup.
In his opening statement, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) stuck to his long-standing position that he would back legislation that limits carbon dioxide emissions only from power plants. For transportation, Alexander said he would consider a low carbon fuel standard but not direct regulations on petroleum refiners.
Power plant pollution also remains the focal point for Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). He maintained that specific emission limits are needed for nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury. “There’s great wisdom in addressing all the pollutants at the same time we address CO2,” he said in an interview. “It’s cost effective, offers predictability and provides certainty.”
Carper said he would offer an amendment to mandate strict power plant emission cuts but wouldn’t say if his success on that measure would lead to his support for the overall climate package. “Let’s take a wait-and-see approach,” he said.
From the opposite perspective, Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) criticized the Lieberman-Warner bill for not sufficiently limiting costs on Americans. And he took aim at the Federal Reserve-like board that the legislation establishes to oversee the carbon market.
Bond said most of his constituents have little faith in how the Fed oversees the U.S. economy.
“That’s cold comfort for the folks back home,” he said.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the full EPW Committee, demanded a more thorough analysis of the Lieberman-Warner bill and produced a list of more than 50 detailed questions he wants answered before a markup.
Inhofe also called on Boxer to back down from a plan to produce legislation before the United Nations negotiations in early December in Bali, Indonesia. “I would ask Chairman Boxer to repudiate that idea and publicly state that her goal is get the legislation right, not legislate for a public relations deadline,” Inhofe said.
But Inhofe’s demand contrasted with Warner, who said he supported a markup before the upcoming U.N. talks as a signal that “action is on its way” from the U.S. government.
U.S. CAP comments
Thirty-three members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership also chimed in yesterday with a letter thanking Lieberman and Warner for advancing the climate change debate and urged the lawmakers to get a bill through the Senate before January 2009.
Major auto, power and oil companies joined some of the country’s biggest environmental groups in saying the Lieberman-Warner bill “addresses many of our recommendations” from a January report on global warming legislation. The group wants Congress to set between 60 to 80 percent cuts in U.S. emissions, use a mandatory cap-and-trade program that limits six primary greenhouse gases and establish a registry to keep track of pollution levels.
U.S. CAP did not offer an official endorsement of the bill, however, saying instead that the legislation goes into far more detail than the group’s recommendations. Officials from U.S. CAP have long said they were unlikely to offer a uniform statement of support for a climate bill given the group’s diverse range of interests, which includes Royal-Dutch Shell, General Motors Corp., Duke Energy Corp. and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“This satisfied everyone at the table,” John Stowell, a top environment and energy official at Duke, said of the letter. “And it’s one big table.”
While NRDC and Environmental Defense are pushing Lieberman and Warner to make even tighter emission cuts, others in U.S. CAP want the bill to take a more favorable turn for industry.
Duke, for example, suggests Lieberman and Warner rewrite the system for distributing what may be tens of billions of dollars worth of emission credits.
Under the current bill, Lieberman-Warner would give power companies up to 20 percent of the credits for free based on their historic coal use, with that level shrinking eventually to zero as the U.S. program stretches out to midcentury. The bill also would auction off 24 percent of the allowances in 2012 and then rise to 73 percent by 2036.
For the North Carolina-based power company, an even greater share of free credits would be useful so that the electric utility has time to develop new low and zero-carbon technologies. Duke officials say they are concerned they may need to increase electricity rates on consumers if they have to compete on the open market for greenhouse gas allowances.
But even a bill from Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), which initially gives away 29 percent of the allowances to power companies for free, may not be sufficient for Duke. “We’re not necessarily thinking that’s enough,” Stowell said.
Edison Electric Institute spokesman Dan Riedinger yesterday called the Lieberman-Warner bill a “very aggressive proposal.” But the electric utility industry’s top trade group has several concerns. Among them: The targets and timetables don’t line up with what will be technologically feasible.
“The only way to make and sustain big cuts in emissions is to provide the time and incentives to bring new technologies online, and ensure that these technologies also are adopted by other major-emitting countries,” Riedinger said. “In its current form, this bill won’t accomplish that, even though it identifies some of the necessary ingredients of a workable climate policy.”
Power company concerns underscore the delicate balancing act Lieberman and Warner face. While electric utilities want a greater share of allowances for free, several environmental groups and a few key lawmakers insist the cap-and-trade system should auction off all of the allowances.