Majority Leader Reid: Senate to wait for House cap-and-trade bill, effectively delaying final bill until 2010. Here’s why that should be good news.

I have said many times “Obama can get a better climate bill in 2010” — although that is true only if he and Congress have a coherent strategy to do just that (see below).

It has been increasingly obvious that 1) climate bills would not be passed by both houses separately, 2) be reconciled in confernce, then 3) be passed by both houses again and finally 4) get signed by Obama all by the end of 2009.  Now it is just about official, as E&E News PM (subs. req’d) reports:

The Senate will not take up climate change legislation until this fall, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today, confirming plans to let the House proceed first on the controversial cap-and-trade and energy measure.

“They’re going to finish theirs before August,” Reid told reporters. “So we’ll have to do it in the fall”….

Asked whether Congress can complete a bill this year, Reid responded, “Congress lasts two years.”

Indeed, right now, the adjournment target date for the fall is October 30, and it seems unlikely the Senate would stay in session much long than that [– I welcome any schedule updates anyone has].

So what does team Obama need to do in 2009 to 1) make up for the fact that there won’t be a climate bill and 2) get a better bill next year than they could get this year?  Well, he has already more than satisfied part #1 with the unprecedented action he has taken (see “31 days that made “” and may remake “” history” and “The first sustainable budget in U.S. history” and “EPA finds carbon pollution a serious danger to Americans’ health and welfare requiring regulation“).

I have already blogged on one part of the answer to the second question “” they need to get China onboard with a serious emissions deal (see Part I, Does a serious bill need action from China? — more on some good news on that front Wednesday).  Here is an more of the answer from my January Salon piece:

Obama must begin high-level bilateral negotiations with China (or trilateral negotiations that include the European Union) to get a national commitment from the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter to cap their emissions no later than 2020. Such a deal would presumably be contingent on U.S. action, but would enable a much stronger domestic climate bill. We simply can’t solve the climate problem without Chinese action. And absent Chinese action in the next decade, the developed countries could never sustain the price for carbon dioxide needed to achieve meaningful reductions….

The goal of deferring the climate bill to 2010 is not merely to allow time to get China on board, but to undo the last eight years of disinformation and muzzling of scientists by the Bush administration.

[A 2007 report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded: “The Bush administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.]

The American public “” and media and cognoscenti “” are not prepared for the scale of effort needed to preserve a livable climate. The Obama team needs to spend a considerable amount of time giving public speeches, holding informal meetings with key opinion makers, researching and publicizing major reports on the high cost of inaction and the relatively low cost of solutions. That simply can’t be done over the next few months, when the administration’s focus must be “” and the media’s focus will be “” on the grave economic crisis….

If, as seems likely, conservatives remain stubbornly blind to the scientific reality, then passing the climate bill will likely descend into a traditional partisan fight. A pragmatist like Obama should relish the fight. After all, if the GOP wants to put itself on the side of humanity’s self-destruction, then that political battle is best held in an election year, after a lengthy public education campaign.

[The critical messaging effort may be his hardest and yet most important task (see “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress.”)   As I’ve written (here,) science adviser John Holdren should initiate a detailed series of reports on U.S. impacts “” temperature rise, sea level rise, Dust-Bowl-ification, spread of disease, ocean acidification, and so on “” ending with a full assessment on the total cost of inaction (see “An introduction to global warming impacts“).  And Energy Secretary Steven Chu should initiate a detailed series of reports on mitigation technologies and costs “” efficiency, cogeneration, solar PV, concentrated solar thermal, and so on (see “An introduction to the core climate solutions“).  And the Administration can then issue a Stern-like report on the costs of action versus the costs of inaction.]

Personally, I’d like to see the Senate (and then House) pass in 2009 the mother of all energy bills.  But since the House seems heck-bent on lumping energy and climate together, then at the least it’d be nice to see an effort, comparable to Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System, to build a smart, 21st-century grid that can enable concentrated solar thermal power from the Southwest and wind from the Midwest, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles everywhere. [See “A smart, green grid is needed to enable a near-term renewable revolution” and “An introduction to the core climate solutions“]

Bottom Line:  Obama won’t see a climate bill on his desk this year — and that should be a good thing!

14 Responses to Majority Leader Reid: Senate to wait for House cap-and-trade bill, effectively delaying final bill until 2010. Here’s why that should be good news.

  1. Al says:

    Most seem to think that any economic recovery will be slow, and long in coming. Unemployment may continue to rise into 2010. We might even be in for a lost decade (zero growth) such as Japan had after their stock market and real estate crash.

    If that economic scenario plays out, I find it hard to believe that even the most effective education effort will succeed in getting the majority to shift attention from their immediate personal trauma (vanished retirement savings, lost jobs, lost houses, vanishing health insurance) to focus on predicted disasters which mainly exist on paper, and won’t happen for years or decades. People can only deal with so many big problems at one time, and they will naturally concentrate on the ones that are right in their faces.

    Absent an unexpectedly rapid rebound in the economy, I doubt that Obama’s position will be stronger in 2010, with the Democrats are facing a congressional midterm election, and anti-tax hysterics screaming bloody murder about carbon taxes and higher energy bills. The opponents won’t even have to deny the science. They will just portray you guys as completely out of touch with present economic reality.

    I’ll note that the message going out from some in the environmental community is still: “modest changes now can make a big difference”. You suddenly dump on the public the news that a radical restructuring of the economy is required, with a lot of short term disruption and sacrifice, and they are likely to tune out the message.

    [JR: I don’t agree. Obama has been saying all this in every speech — just not in a big way.]

  2. Harrier says:

    A lengthening of the economic downturn ought to be used as a spur to increase development of carbon-free energy. The reengineering of the United States to run without fossil fuels is going to be a massive undertaking, and as a necessity it could probably employ a lot of people.

  3. ecostew says:


    Indeed, Congress “must” pass the “mother of all sustainable energy bills” and, the bill must mitigate AGW, secure food and water, and protect the environment. We do not need an AGW climate bill at this point, and if it did pass, it wouldn’t do what needs to be done ASAP.

  4. Sasparilla says:

    Nice article Joe. Looking forward to some good news on China (tomorrow), hopefully their prior statements were opening negotiating stances.

  5. Neil Howes says:

    I would agree with Harrier that now is a good opportunity to start replacing coal with a massive grid, solar and wind expansion while the economy can absorb almost unlimited stimulus. By 2011 this type of spending may be competing with a reviving economy.

    The US( and the world) needs a fall back position if China and India do not agree to CO2 caps and reductions. It’s in the US’s interest to start reductions to show solidarity with other advanced economies and increase the possibility of world wide trade action against (possible) hold-out countries.

    Building renewable energy capacity will make it easier to put aging coal-fired power stations on care and maintenance for use only during peak summer months (eventually as you have suggested burning biomass).

  6. Jason says:

    Here’s an idea to snare those repubs who don’t believe in AGW – tie implementation details to artic ice coverage. E.g. the law kicks in when ice minimum drops another 5% with 100% give away and drops on a scale baed on further melt. At ice free, we blow up any coal plants not converted to co firing.

  7. So today Google showed off an incredible new search tool – called Timeline It can display a collection of news searches across a timeline.

    The first thing I tried was looking at “global warming” over a span of years… I have been going back and reviewing headlines over the last few years …back to 1981 and even 1979 and before. Easy to do this.

    Just from this one search report, it is clear that we had solid scientific statements back then, it is really shocking to see that 20 or 30 years meant so little in what we accomplished. I would like to think that we will get a great response out of congress next year, but Timeline history suggests it will slow to change

    Try it out at:

    I set it for News Global Waming

    Show Year Size Medium Date: (blank)

    It is pretty neat.

  8. Karl says:

    I am achually in favor of both a one bill strategy (although I think some small things might need to be done separately to hold together the votes) and final votes in 2010. I think the House and Senate can pass SOMETHING by the end of this year before copenhagen. Then the Obama administration can show the world what it can pass and what it can’t. It obviously won’t get a treaty ratified but it can work out changes to the climate/energy bill instead. Then when Congress comes back in early 2010 they can agree on a final bill and get that done by Obama’s SOTU. By then I’d say the economy will have bottomed out and will be starting a very slow recovery. There will be plenty of time to work on the key votes and get them to vote for the final package and get the details right.

  9. Leland Palmer says:

    Looking at the opening statements of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearings, it seemed like the deniers have been vanquished. There was not a denier to be seen. What there seemed to be was a resolve to get the “The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.” legislation through the process, and haggling over the details.

    Minds have been changed. What changed them? A classified briefing?

    Whatever changed the deniers minds, they were silent about any denial of the basic facts of global warming. They still may have been in denial about the speed of the coming climate change, though.

    It looked like getting a bill will be easy. Whether we can get a bill that makes any substantial difference is questionable.

    I don’t know much about the politics. But, if it’s easy to get this bill past the House, why not go full speed ahead in the Senate?

  10. Dorothy says:

    I agree, Joe. It will be so much better to get strong legislation rather than go off in the wrong direction – where ‘cap and trade’ will take us. We need a economically dependable and equitable mechanism for cutting GHG’s and achieving zero carbon emissions. Much more thought and effort should be directed towards ‘cap and dividend.”

    We have to act forcibly. There was an article in The Guardian Tuesday emphasizing the really awful mess we’re in and urging more honesty by scientists about the crisis we face. See “To stop a climate catastrophe we must first believe we can make a difference”

    Here’s a quote, “Scientists must stop sanitising their message. World leaders and their people need to hear the warnings loud and clear and follow through with radical action that matches the scale of the crisis.”

    A radical restructuring of all nations’economies will certainly be required. But the US can and should take the lead.

    Last note: Thankyou to Richard Pauli for pointing us to Google Timeline. What an amazing tool.

  11. If there is no climate legislation this year, i.e., no political consensus on what we are prepared to do to control GHGs, then what kind of mandate will the U.S. have for Copenhagen?

  12. N. Sukumar says:

    A sure way to get India on board is to stop militarily arming Pakistan (especially military hardware that is not useful against terrorists). The history of republican and democratic administrations over the last half-century in this regard do not inspire much confidence.

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  14. val says:

    Because no one will be able to afford electricity, heat or gas I believe the green crisis will be solved. America can become a third world nation as the rest of the planet moves forward to a modern society. Job loss is continuing, and eventually the enitire cost will fall on the the elite, which will leave a rotting USA for fairer treatment in other nations. We have gotten the government we elected and deserve, which is driving us into a false utopia. A new round of massive foreclosers are set into motion by this new tax. A once great nation is bleeding to death before our eyes, but the dream will go on until it turns into a nightmare. The USA has lost it’s common sense and as a result there will be no winners.