The landmark Senate climate hearings: Day 1 debrief

Kerry testifies before EPW

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works began its hearings today on the climate and clean energy bill.  I don’t think there was any big news.  Sen. Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Voinovich (R-OH) were a tad more negative than I expected.  I’ve no doubt Baucus will support the final bill, but I definitely have doubts Voinovich will.  This Wonk Room post is a great summary of everyone’s position on the key issues:

This week, hearings begin in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733). This comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA), will establish a mandatory global warming pollution reduction market that will fund clean energy and climate adaptation, as well as establish new renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. The 19 members of the committee “” 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans “” are overseeing a three-day marathon of legislative hearings this week, starting with Administration witnesses today.

The committee members can be sorted by their degree of support for clean energy, progressive reform, and strong climate action:

STRONGEST ACTION: Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
STRONG ACTION: Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Tom Udall (D-CO)
CENTRIST: Max Baucus (D-MT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Arlen Specter (D-PA)
ANTI: Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), George Voinovich (R-OH)
EXTREME ANTI: John Barrasso (R-WY), Kit Bond (R-MO), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA)

Below is the Wonk Room’s summary of some key issues that will be debated at the hearings, ranging from support for policies to ensure a clean energy future to favored attacks on any action by the Republican members.


CLEAN AIR: “We must act to reduce black carbon,” Carper says, “a dangerous pollutant emitted by old, dirty diesel engines like those in some school buses and thought to be the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.” “Among my top priorities was to be sure that we not only address challenges that carbon dioxide poses to our planet, but sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide and mercury.”

COAL PLANT GREENHOUSE GAS REGULATION: Kerry-Boxer follows Gillibrand‘s call that “the EPA has to have authority to regulate coal plants under the Clean Air Act.” Baucus opposes the retention of this authority.

EMISSIONS LIMITS: As Sens. Cardin, Lautenberg, Merkley, Sanders, Whitehouse requested, the 2020 target for greenhouse pollution reductions has been strengthened to 20 percent below 2005 levels, instead of Waxman-Markey’s 17 percent target. Baucus has criticized the stronger targets.

GREEN TRANSPORTATION: Kerry-Boxer includes Sen. Carper‘s push for green transportation, devoting “a guaranteed share of revenues from carbon regulation to transit, bike paths, and other green modes of transport.” The SmartWay Transportation Efficiency Program is modeled on the Clean, Low-Emission, Affordable, New Transportation Efficiency Act (S. 575 / H.R. 1329), co-sponsored by Sens. Specter, Merkley, Lautenberg, and Cardin.

NATURAL RESOURCE ADAPTATION: Whitehouse and Baucus have submitted language to support efforts for natural resource adaptation.


ALLOWANCE ALLOCATION: As chair of the Finance Committee, Baucus can assert authority over emission allowance distribution. Baucus has raised the possibility of “auctioning allowances to cut taxes by cutting marginal rates, by cutting capital gains rates, by cutting payroll taxes or by doing all of the above,” although he doubts there will be “major” changes to the House allocation formula, which is supported by the Edison Electric Institute, the main utility trade group. Baucus has supported additional allocations to rural electric cooperatives and “solid relief to low-income Americans.” Carper supports the existing allocation formula, saying, “I thought the utility industry did a great service by coming up with a compromise that all of them could live with.”

COAL SUPPORT: Carper led what he calls the “clean coal group,” an “ad-hoc group that helped craft the coal provisions,” including a change that “allows for advanced distribution of the bill’s bonus allowances” for carbon capture and sequestration projects with at least 50% efficiency. The National Mining Association still says the legislation “doesn’t work for coal.”

NUCLEAR SUPPORT: Carper wants “an expanded role for nuclear” and is “working with Joe Lieberman and others to create a more robust nuclear title when the bill comes to the floor.” However, he recognizes that “there’ll be a lot of incentives, just from the way the allowance system will be set up,” and has called for expanding the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, rather than increasing subsidies for the nuclear industry. Alexander believes “we should build 100 new nuclear plants” but has offered no proposal on how to achieve that, while dismissing estimates that the legislation under consideration would accomplish his goals.

TRADE: Baucus supports “ways to make sure U.S. companies are not taken advantage of, or discriminated against.” Specter supports “strong provisions to ensure the strength and viability of domestic manufacturing,” including a “border adjustment mechanism” if “other major carbon emitting countries fail to commit to an international agreement requiring commensurate action on climate change.”


CLIMATE DENIAL: Barrasso, Bond, Crapo, Inhofe, and Vitter question the consensus that manmade climate change is a significant threat. Barrasso has said: “I don’t believe it is a problem at this point.” “None of the farmers I have talked to in Missouri,” said Bond, “have expressed concerns about human-caused global climate change.” Crapo argues “the underlying cause of these climactic shifts is ultimately not well-understood and is a matter of vigorous debate.” “God’s still up there,” said Inhofe. “We’re going through these cycles.” “I don’t think it is clear and settled,” Vitter has said, “the extent of the human impact on temperature trends.”

EPA AND CAROL BROWNER: Barrasso, Crapo, Inhofe, Vitter, and Voinovich have repeatedly criticized the EPA and their analyses of the legislation. Voinovich has a hold on EPA deputy administrator nominee Robert Perciasepe. Inhofe, Barrasso, and Vitter have attacked Browner as an unaccountable “czar” and are requesting White House documents about her actions….

FUEL COSTS: Bond co-authored a report that argues clean energy legislation is the equivalent of a $3.6 trillion gas tax, totalling over 40 years extremely pessimistic estimates of fuel prices based on a National Black Chamber of Commerce report, without taking into account fuel economy. Other studies predict that gas prices will fall, as demand lessens and oil company profit margins are lessened.

JOB ASSISTANCE: Inhofe and Voinovich argue that provisions for unemployment benefits and job relocation provide evidence that the legislation will destroy jobs. “There’s no credible analysis that suggests this bill will be a net job creator,” claimed Voinovich. “Less energy production,” says Barrasso, “will mean fewer jobs for Americans.”

— Brad Johnson

Actually, there is plenty of credible analysis that this bill will create jobs (see “Investing in a clean energy recovery to create 1.7 million net new jobs“).  And is even more obvious that failing to act will destroy jobs and a livable climate (see “When the global Ponzi scheme collapses (circa 2030), the only jobs left will be green“).

9 Responses to The landmark Senate climate hearings: Day 1 debrief

  1. Richard L says:


    This is great info for me. I am well aware of the science end of the issue, but not so much on the legislative side. Please forgive a basic question, but I ask thinking there may be others who don’t know our process either. How many votes are needed to move this out of this committee? Is there a basic description of the process that you have already prepared?

    Thanks for all your great work. I enjoy your blog every day. Rich

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Joe and others . . .

    I wasn’t able to watch today. I’ll just ask one question: Did any of the Senators or people testifying mention the recent letter (sent by eighteen scientific organizations) explicitly or, at least, state specifically that at least eighteen major scientific organizations in the U.S. agree on the reality of climate change?

    As I’ve mentioned, The New York Times has still not covered that letter, as far as I can tell.

    I’m starting to think that the letter must have been a joke or deception, i.e., some stunt involving the cooperation of CP and the folks who run the AAAS’s website? After all, who else has covered the letter? The signatures looked real to me, and the writing credible, but the media haven’t covered it, or at least not The New York Times. What am I missing?



  3. “None of the farmers I have talked to in Missouri,” said Bond, “have expressed concerns about human-caused global climate change.”

    Forget what all the climate scientists say. If you want to know whether global warming is a problem, ask the farmers in Missouri.

  4. Mike D says:

    Committee votes are by simple majority so only 10 votes are needed. The bill could pass tomorrow (there are 12 Democrats on the committee) but more time is needed to fill out the details within the outline of the bill and address the (often legitimate) concerns of moderate Senators.

  5. MarkB says:

    Error in 1st paragraph: Sen. Voinovich (D-OH)

    should be (R-OH)

    [JR: Typo. Yes. Thanks.]

  6. Dennis says:

    Inhofe is quoted in today’s (10/28/09) Washington Post as offering to provide the names of scientists who have become skeptics of climate change recently. I think the committee should take him up on his offer — and them bring some of them to testify. Having read portions of Inhofe’s list, the media will be exposed to a variety of non-scientists and people whose works and words have been taken out of context by Sen. Inhofe.

  7. Roger says:

    Um, right, adding to Charles’ point, the farmers in Missouri aren’t much concerned about climate change… Could this be:

    1) Because they tend to read Farm Journal (which has been light on the topic) rather than Scientific American?

    2) Because the TV weather folks never make mention of climate change?

    3) Because our government isn’t getting the word out on climate change?

    Given the huge predicted negative impacts from climate change, including serious threats to our future national security, isn’t it time for President Obama to go on prime-time, national television to give a “State of the Climate” address, to inform the farmers in Missouri, and other misinformed Americans, of the very clear and future danger represented by climate change?

    Last time I checked, offering protection to its citizens is one of the roles of government. We/they just don’t yet seem to’get’ the fact that the very slow ticking of the climate change ‘clock’ doesn’t erase this role–it only hides it from the eyes of the many misinformed stakeholders.

    Now is the time for all good students, parents, grandparents, politicians, bloggers, climate activists, and others to show our leaders how to lead–by asking them to take bold action to preserve our climate, for all our sakes. This is a STEALTH problem: once it’s apparent to EVERYONE–like it is to the folks who are now surrounded by pine bark beetle-killed trees–it’s too late.

    So, it’s time, President Obama. Time to talk about the results of the $20 billion in government research that’s sitting there, unnoticed at It’s time to let citizens know what’s in store for them, so that they will tell their senators to ‘get on board’ to support the climate legislation that the world needs from us in the US.

    For folks reading Joe’s blog that live in, or know of people who live in, states where senators are dragging their misinformed feet, let’s get the phones ringing, the Internet buzzing, the tweets flying, etc.
    (States needing calls to senators include: MT, DE, PA, TN, ID, OH, MO, OK, and LA.)

    Sorry to go on for so long, but this is important. Just for fun, check out this 350 climate video:

  8. Roger says:

    The working link to the above 350 climate video, a neat ‘3,5-0h’ song by Fred Small, is: Enjoy.