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.
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.”