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DC Hill update: Senate committee action set for September


DC Hill update: Senate committee action set for September

As six Senate committees take up climate legislation, much work remains to be done to gain support for a strong climate bill. Climate champions in the Senate will plot their next moves in July, in hopes of producing legislative text after the August recess. Committee chairs will be working with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to craft sections of the bill that can win support from moderates without losing key progressive votes or legislative integrity, while opponents continues to employ traditional strategies to block progress and whip up public opposition to climate action. Strong grassroots pressure will be key for supporting strong policy proposed by climate champions, as well as for preventing serious weakening.

1. Timeline

Though she had originally committed to a pre-August recess mark up, Environment and Public Works (EPW) Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has recently shifted the release of a discussion draft and mark up to September. The change came soon after Majority Leader Reid extended his deadline for committee mark ups in the Senate from Sept. 18 to Sept. 28 -- both likely products of a meeting held on Wednesday between the Majority Leader and the chairs of all the Committees with jurisdiction.

New schedule for Senate energy and climate bill mark up:

  • 7/14-8/7: Climate hearing in EPW, Agriculture, Finance and Foreign Relations Committees;

  • 8/8 9/7: August recess;

  • 9/8-9/25: Discussion drafts emerge, and committee markups are held;

  • 9/28: Majority Leader Reid's new mark-up deadline for all Senate committees with jurisdiction over legislation.

2. ACES in Committees

Environment and Public Works (EPW): EPW is the primary committee of jurisdiction with respect to the climate bill, and contains a strong block of climate champions. Despite the shift in timing, a strong piece of legislation is still expected from EPW, although the potential outcome of having an EPW bill used to frame the work of other Committees loses some of its potency. Still, grassroots groups will now have more time to work with the Committee to produce a strong bill by September, and opponents will have less fodder to work with over the August recess. Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has expressed particular interest in strengthening short term emissions reduction targets, and exploring the possibility of doing more to regulate new and old coal plants.

Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Arlen Specter (D-PA) are key members to woo in the Chairwoman's plan to strengthen the 2020 emissions reduction target beyond ACES (potentially from 17% to 20%). Their votes are not essential to Committee passage, but having unified Democratic support for stronger targets would be valuable as the bill moves towards the floor. See MoveOn's new ad campaign calling for preservation of EPA authority to regulate coal plants.

EPW held their first hearing on climate last week. Democratic members voiced strong support for climate action, while the most contentious issue from Republican senators appeared to be the important role nuclear could play in legislation. See Grist's wrap up of the hearing and take on nukes in a new bill. NRDC provided strong testimony in support of strengthening the bill's short term emissions reduction targets, efficiency mandates, regulation of existing and new coal plants, and offset and biomass integrity.

Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar also testified to the necessity of bold climate legislation this year. In contrast, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour continued to perpetuate a "do nothing" message for climate change, in addition to promoting oil, gas, and coal as core members of an environmental solution. Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock, Pennsylvania also testified, providing key perspective concerning the revitalizing effect green technology and renewable energy is having on the former steel town. Members of Avaaz's new Action Factory also attended the hearings, wearing muscle suits and calling for a "stronger" bill.

Finance Committee: Finance also held their first hearing on trade provisions this week. Trade is one of two key areas of jurisdiction for this committee (the other being allocations), and further hearings are expected before August. The key issue being debated by the Committee is whether to address trade and the environmental impact of imports / exports in domestic legislation, or leave it to an international treaty that will be discussed in Copenhagen in December and by the World Trade Organization. Sen. Grassley (R-IA) voiced concerns over the international sanctions that foreign countries could bring upon America if an energy bill to address trade through border measures or incentives were passed, while Foreign Relations Chairman Kerry (D-MA) articulated the potential for jobs to "leak" overseas if the environmental impact of domestic sectors were to be addressed without some international component. Chairman Baucus released a comment in support of Sen. Grassley. Sen. Kerry is working on trade provisions with Sen. Boxer different from both the ACES measures (a carbon tariff after 2025 on imports from countries without enforced climate legislation or emissions reductions commitments), and those included in Lieberman-Warner-Boxer (E&E subscription required to view).

Agriculture Committee: Like the House, Senate "Ag" committee members are planning to stake a major claim in an energy bill. Members have committed to including all provisions from the deal struck with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), and will seek further farm and ethanol friendly provisions. Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) will lead the charge, with key support coming from Sens. Conrad (D-N.D.), Lincoln (D-AR) and Stabenow (D-MI). These Senators could provide key votes if sufficient compromise is made, but lawmakers will have to be cautious of the impacts changes could have on the agricultural landscape (especially in the context of biomass and biofuels). (E&E subscription req'd to view link.)

Foreign Relations Committee: Foreign Relations also held their first hearing this week on trade provisions (in the context of lessons learned from the European carbon trading scheme). Concerns were similar to those voiced in the Finance hearing, and will likely be explored further once the details of the Boxer-Kerry trade provision are made clear.

Climate at the G8 Summit

Leaders at the G8 Summit in Rome have committed to limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Russia has rejected the commitment, but other parties seem likely to agree to it, which puts us in better shape for Copenhagen.

Prepared by Jason Kowalski and Rhiya Trivedi. Comments? E-mail

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