Dingell: Climate bill’s chances in 2008 “verge on impossible”

E&E News (subs. req’d) has a good article on the prospects for climate legislation in an election year — note at the end that House Republicans are going to oppose any serious, mandatory action:

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) sees this year’s wide-open presidential election campaign as presenting a significant hurdle that could stymie passage of a global warming bill during this session of Congress.

“It’s going to verge on impossible,” the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said yesterday in an exclusive interview. “We haven’t calculated the number of days that exist here for the drafting of legislation, but it’s not very many. And so the writing of the legislation is going to be difficult. And the presidential election is going to be a tremendous distraction. As will be the elections of all the members.”

Dingell said he had his doubts about whether the Senate will be successful in adopting a bill this year from Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman and Virginia Republican John Warner. Senate Democratic leaders say they hope to bring the bill up before the summer, but Dingell was

“There’s a big difference between saying, ‘We want to try,’ and, ‘We’re going to,'” he said.

The Capitol Hill debate over mandatory limits on heat-trapping greenhouse gases has largely been focused on the Senate. There, Democrats need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster expected from Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe. An E&E Daily analysis published earlier this week found that Democrats are within sight of 60.

But Dingell predicted it won’t be so easy.

“It might be helpful if it happens,” he said. “But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.”

State pre-emption on the table

In the interview, Dingell didn’t offer many specifics on the legislation he plans to draft this year establishing a cap-and-trade program as the lead U.S. policy on climate change.

Asked if the measure he plans on writing would include a provision that nixes several states’ climate laws in deference to a uniform federal standard, the longest-serving House member cited the federal government’s constitutional authority for regulating interstate commerce.

“It has served this country very well,” he said. “We’re one of the most successful economies in the history of the world. So much so that the Europeans have recognized this is the way to go. Now we seem to be trying to reverse our success. It doesn’t seem to be like good judgment to me. So we’re going to keep those thoughts in mind as we write the legislation.”

Key Democratic leaders from states with strong new climate laws will resist Dingell here, including California’s Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, and Barbara Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. California has one law that would force greenhouse gas emission reductions of 25 percent by 2020. Another imposes a roughly 40.5 mile per gallon fuel economy standard by 2016 for most cars and trucks.

“Her position there is clear,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said yesterday on the issue of state pre-emption.

Dingell’s broader comments on the prospects for climate legislation come as House Democratic leaders plant the issue atop their agenda at the start of a second year in power in Washington.

For now, those leaders appear willing to leave the bill to Dingell’s control. There are no deadlines — a different strategy than in 2007 when Pelosi said she wanted to see energy and climate legislation
adopted by more than a dozen House committees before the July 4 recess.

“It remains a priority for the speaker and she wants to move it as quickly as it can,” Hammill said. Asked if Pelosi would be willing to wait until 2009, he replied, “That’s a big hypothetical question. She said she wants to get a bill this year.”

Dingell said he prefers working without time constraints.

“I’ve told the speaker that deadlines are usually counterproductive,” he said. “We will do our best to get the bill done as fast as we can. People ask me, ‘Dingell,’ they say, ‘when are you going to write this bill?’ I say, ‘Just as fast as we can.'”

Another key Democrat in the climate debate said yesterday that he remains committed to passing a bill in the House, conferencing it with the Senate and then getting President Bush to sign it.

“That’s what we’ve said consistently over the last year and that’s what we’re saying again today,” Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), the chairman of the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, told reporters. “But in terms of a precise week or month when we’ll take a precise step, at the
moment I can’t give you that.”

Boucher also rejected the notion that with a sluggish U.S. economy, it is not a good time politically for Democrats to move a major piece of environmental legislation. “Absolutely not,” he said. “If we construct this properly, this program is not going to impose a net cost, it’s going to create a net economic benefit.”

The subcommittee chairman maintained that a cap-and-trade bill would create thousands of jobs around the country, sparking the “next major technology boom.”

“The sooner we put a price on carbon, the sooner the emitting sectors of the U.S. economy will begin to develop low emitting technologies, those technologies will be put in place in the United States, and American innovation leading to the creation of those technologies will create one
of the largest export economies this country has ever had,” Boucher said.

GOP doubts

Republicans on Dingell and Boucher’s committee have a different impression on climate legislation.

“I do think global warming is a real issue,” said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the ranking Republican on the full committee. “I do think that to the extent we can do things that make economic sense and environmental sense, we should try to move forward. But I do not believe that we should like lemmings just jump off the cliff in the name of political correctness.”

Barton also repeated his concerns about the science linking man-made emissions to climate change. “There are a large number of skeptics still out there about what causes global warming and what mankind can do about it,” he said. “I hope some of your hearings this spring touch on that.”

Democratic efforts to achieve a bipartisan agreement took a hit when the newest GOP leader on the subcommittee put his cards on the table.

“While I feel strongly that addressing climate change is certainly important, I believe we must address this through a global, voluntary framework that focuses on innovations in technology rather than a pure government mandate,” said Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, the new ranking
member of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee.

Upton replaced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois this year as the senior Republican on the panel. During last year’s global warming debate, Hastert’s efforts and comments raised some Democrats’ hopes that he would support a bipartisan agreement on curbing U.S. emissions.

But Hastert resigned from Congress late last year, leaving an opening for Upton, an 11-term lawmaker from Michigan’s southwestern corner.

In his opening statement, Upton poured cold water on the prospect that Democrats will get help from the top of the Republican roster.

“At the end of the day, we’ll need to demonstrate that the price paid in both jobs and dollars equates to some tangible environmental benefits to the American people,” Upton said. “In my view, spending trillions of dollars and losing a countless number of jobs, to maybe alter temperatures by a tenth of a degree while China and India continue to spew emissions, is not the option that we’re looking for.”

While committee leaders are seeking bipartisan agreement on the controversial bill, it wouldn’t necessarily be required to pass the measure out of the full Energy and Commerce panel, where Democrats have a five-seat majority.

Even so, the early signs may foretell what lies ahead for the committee.

“If you start seeing problems immediately at the subcommittee level, with a lot of obstruction and procedural stuff, and that carries into the full committee, nothing will get done,” Rep. Charles Gonzales (D-Texas), a key swing-vote member on the Energy and Commerce Committee from San Antonio, said in an interview. “That’s not fair. But that’s the reality.”

13 Responses to Dingell: Climate bill’s chances in 2008 “verge on impossible”

  1. Ronald says:

    It’s good that nothing long term passes this year anyway. It wouldn’t be any good if it was signed by this president. The best thing would be something that might be short term and let the next president decide what the global warming bill will be.

  2. Paul K says:

    This points out the inefficiency of looking to politicians for solutions.

  3. Jay Alt says:

    Of course Bush will not sign a useful law so the goal is to put bills on his desk and let him veto them. That will generate scrutiny and require all in Congress to go on the record The large turnout of young people in early primaries bodes well for the future.

  4. Ronald says:

    Paul K.,
    I agree with your point of not looking for politicians for solutions as a general idea. But I’m a freethinker, not religious thinker. I go for all reasonable solutions, I’m not hooked on only one way of doing something.
    Politicians are wind vanes, they will point the way the wind is blowing and it’s the peoples job to blow hard enough.
    Politics is a way of solving some problems. The private sector is a way of solving some problems. Both can also be used, sometimes even coordinated, for better results.

  5. Paul K says:

    Bush will not sign or veto a useful law because none will reach his desk. It is the people, not the government, who have to power to reach the real goal which is replacing fossil fuel. Even with a different administration, it will be 2010 before the government does anything meaningful. Congress will still be sharply divided. Whatever does pass will likely be less than what is needed, costly and open to waste fraud and abuse.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Pauk K.

    If you are putting your faith in the people

    [It is the people, not the government, who have to power to reach the real goal which is replacing fossil fuel. ]

    you are not facing reality. Have you noticed national electric and gasoline demand dropping in the recent past.? And, are you counting on Indian, Chinese, Brazilian, Russian, Japanese and Indonesian people to replace their fossil fuel use?

    Global warming is real and requires real commitments from nations and imposed on the people. People are focused on paying their bills, morgages and consuming goods and services.

  7. Michael says:

    How do you propose that the people coordinate their efforts? That’s what the government is for. You seem to be advocating…anarchism. Here in California the government does plenty of useful things in this regard….government can and does work…

    Government can be improved and made more responsive but editing it out of the solution is…naive and foolish.

    Your brain has been filled with claptrap about the virtues of a lack of government.

  8. Paul K says:

    I look to the people not as a matter of faith, but of necessity. The current solutions discussion is mainly a debate of government versus the private sector. Both have a roll to play. Neither is fully adequate to the task. Anonymous looks to government to impose a solution. This suggests the people belong to the government. They do not. Government, at least in America, is of by and for the people. The private sector is also of by and for the people as, in most cases, markets are driven by consumers.

    Before going on, let me propose a change in how we approach the problem. Those concerned about global warming focus on reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. This seems reasonable as CO2 is seen as the cause. I suggest we make the focus replacing fossil fuels as our source of energy and power. This is not mere semantics. Most of the various schemes focused on CO2 are designed to force the private sector to compliance through penalty and taxation. Some solutions like sequestration do not reduce CO2, only store it somewhere until it escapes. Resistance to these schemes is well documented in the often frustrated posts by Joe here at climate progress. The focus on CO2 requires broad agreement on targets, methods and on AGW itself. On the other hand, simply replacing fossil fuels is a more direct approach with greater political feasibility. It is, ultimately, the aim of those focusing on CO2 and has the happy benefit of being the best – really the only, along with increased efficiencies – way to eliminate GHG emissions. More importantly, it is an approach everyone, including those so-called deniers and delayers can support.

    I will leave the analysis of what government and the private sector can accomplish to another time. Michael asks the important question. How do I propose that the people coordinate their efforts? We have in this country a wonderful tradition of positive action through voluntary association. I wish to tap into that. We currently use fossil fuels for transportation, manufacturing, electrical generation and the heating and cooling of homes and buildings. It is frustrating because, as Joe says, technological alternatives already exist or are in the near pipeline. The problem is these technologies have not been widely applied. The biggest impediment, especially in the areas of generation and heating and cooling, is the high initial cost compared to savings over time. The consumer is simply unable to exert the usual pressures on supply and price as in other markets. There are two ways out of this dilemma – artificially raise the price of fossil fuels to make alternatives competitive or find a way to reduce the cost to the consumer. I believe the second is far more effective and is possible through action via the voluntary association of the people. I wish I could be more specific in answering Michael’s question. My thoughts on this are at an early stage. I would greatly appreciate any thoughts others may have either supportive or challenging to help me come up with something more concrete.

  9. John L. McCormick says:

    Paul K.

    You said [Anonymous looks to government to impose a solution.]

    I am Anonymous but not your antagonist. I want to see my grandchildren functioning in a world economy that leveled its CO2 emissions to 450 ppm.

    Your last comments still falls into the ‘wishing’ category and are not easily discussed in this thread because Joe has to move on with new topics and you and I are left to dredge up this archive and others may never look for or find it.


    Yes, government is not some grey box. It is the collective command of all citizens but we individuals have many serious concerns competing for our focus and financial commitment. Monthly bills and daily expenses are overtaking an increasing number of us Americans and the future is beginning to look uglier. So, we may have to rely more upon government to hand down edicts and commands because, on an individual basis, including families and communities, our priorities might soon shift from the future to the here and now.

    The Lieberman-Warner bill could accomplish more CO2 reductions in its first year than any national public-individual (voluntary) campaign will in a decade.

    And, just a reminder; coal, gas and oil fired electric generation comprises a bit more than 70 percent of the US electric energy infrastructure. A 3.5 MW wind tower weighs about 363 tons and much of that weight is derived from energy intensive steel foundaries and petrochemical compounds. How will we substitute the near-700,000 MW of fossil fired capacity without rolling out a hellish amount of CO2 to manufacture and erect even a small fraction of alternative power sources?

    Closing nukes and opposing new starts will add to the CO2 increase when that power source is shifted to wind (or solar).

    I too am desparate to imagine and demand something more concrete. But I have to begin from a place of hard reality and not conjecture.

    John L. McCormick

  10. Ronald says:

    Paul K.,
    You said your thinking on this is at an early stage. Might I suggest you read the book, ‘Hell or High Water’ that I think has been mentioned on this website. The engineering and politics are spot on correct.

    You talk about volunteering, another book I would recommend is ‘Ignition.’ It’s a new book, I read it 2 weeks ago and it does talk about what type of organizing that needs to be done to make the changes in peoples thinking you are alluding to. It was in paperback, so maybe not that new, but definitely in print and maybe in your library as it was in mine.

    One thing you have to remember is we can’t get away from the important role that government plays to reduce CO2. Government makes the rules of the economic game and like any game, that has an enormous influence in how it is played.

    You in another thread wrote that it was technology that solved the smog from cars problem. Actually that’s not true, all the technology in the world wouldn’t have solved the problem if the government hadn’t mandated that it be used in all cars. It may have been possible to have people ask for it, but in a city of a million cars, I might conclude that my 1 out of a million contribution is not enough for me to spend the money for an expensive accessory like smog control and thousands of other people would agree with me. The fewer people who ask for the smog control devices cost, the greater the cost, the fewer people will buy it. Force everyone to have the smog devices, the costs of development and installation is spread along to everybody.

    You also wrote that we should work towards making non carbon fuels cheaper, but if you have read many of the articles on this website addressing just that, you would see that that is just not going to happen. It would be a nice thing to have happen, but any new non carbon technologies and products just cost more. It’s more expensive to collect wind or solar for use than to burn a concentrated form of energy in fossil fuels.

  11. Michael says:

    I will concur with Ronald and others above.

    You are not using Occam’s Razor in your pleas for “anything but government” to solve these issues. You are asking us to enter into a massive experiment in social organization that runs orthogonal to the common concerns of most people reading this blog about the future of the planet.

    More democracy is good, a more active citizenry is good. But that doesn’t take government out of the picture. There has been a lot of hooey circulating in our public sphere in the last few decades about “wouldn’t it be better” if we have less government. This was often just a cover for greedy people who wanted more money and didn’t like taxes.

    You are asking us all to bend over backwards because of a particular “government-phobia” that you have. This is self-indulgent and sophomoric.

    The question is not “whether” government but “how” government. Not “whether” regulation but “how” regulation. The distraction that your type of argument has created has only led to the continuation of corrupt forms of regulation and subsidy of the oil industry and more no-bid military contracts. Instead we should be asking “how” the government regulates the economy, including in the energy sector.

  12. Paul K says:

    Thanks all,
    Michael, I think you have me confused with Ron. The words “anything but government” or anything like them have never appeared in any comment here or in my thoughts. The word that best describes my thoughts so far is association. I ask the same question as Michael. How do the people coordinate their efforts? I began a short time ago investigating how to form an association whose purpose will be to fund the installation of solar panels, photo voltaic cells and small wind turbines. In doing so, I have found there are all sorts of ways people are coming together to replace fossil fuels. This was very heartening. It is sometimes easier to have confidence in an idea when you see others have the same one.
    To me, the best vehicle for the type of association I envision is a 501C(3). Its creation involves careful structuring, an investment of time and money, and government approval.

    I am not anti – government. Here’s a pro government proposal. Starting with next year’s budget – better yet amend this year’s – maximize fossil fuel replacement in all government purchasing.

  13. Robbie says:

    What a awesome find! I’m glad I found this.