The Skywriter

DC Hill update: Senate preview


DC Hill update: Senate preview

Despite the recently acquired Democratic super majority (now that Al Franken has been sworn in as the new senator from Minnesota), getting 60 votes for a strong climate bill will be extremely difficult in the Senate. Climate legislation is now making its way through six Senate Committees, using the House ACES bill as a starting point for action. Lawmakers will have to work to gain support from moderates without losing progressive votes. Grassroots pressure will be essential, both to try and strengthen and to prevent serious additional weakening throughout the Senate process. Stay tuned for a forthcoming policy update on 1Sky’s Senate strategy: in the meantime, this is a summary of the landscape with which we are contending.

1. Senate Timeline

  • 7/7: Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing on climate and energy legislation;

  • 7/8: Finance Committee hearing on international trade considerations in climate legislation;

  • 7/8: Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "industrial competitiveness" in climate legislation;

  • 7-15-7/17 EPW anticipates releasing draft legislative text;

  • 7/27-8/7 EPW climate bill markup;

  • 8/8-9/7: Senate on recess;

  • 9/18: Majority Leader Reid's (D-NV) markup deadline for all six Senate committees with climate jurisdiction.

2. Senate Climate Committees

Six committees will have jurisdiction over pieces of the Senate climate bill: Environment and Public Works (EPW), Finance, Foreign Relations, Agriculture, Commerce Science and Transportation, Energy and Natural Resources (ENR). There is a general notion about which committees have jurisdiction over which elements of the bill, but dividing the bill will likely be an ongoing process. Some pieces (like allocations) may even overlap, leaving it to Majority Leader Reid, President Obama and other deal makers to sort through committee differences in September. In the meantime, we have to fight hard over the next few weeks to make sure committee members know we want a stronger bill and that we firmly oppose any further weakening.

Here's the lay of the land for the committees:

Environment and Public Works: Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW). The Committee has jurisdiction over targets, coal performance standards, allocations, offsets, carbon market mechanisms, and generally most of the bill. Chairwoman Boxer has promised to begin a markup later in July. According to Sen. Boxer, her legislation will be based on ACES but is likely to include tougher short-term targets for capping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Said Boxer:

You might see a little bit of a stronger bill come out of our committee. You’ll see some refinements and changes and tweaks.

EPW is a progressive committee that will likely push for strengthening if they see the opportunity for their changes to stick amongst the full Senate. Putting pressure on swing senators to support strong legislation has the potential to embolden progressive champs to craft a better bill. Swings to watch: Sens. Baucus (D-MT), Specter (D-PA), Carper (D-DE)

Finance: Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) chairs the Finance Committee, which will have jurisdiction over allocations and trade provisions. Chairman Baucus prefers a more moderate approach to climate policy than his colleague Sen Boxer. Last year he advocated on behalf of rural electric utilities, and coal interests in his state while crafting climate legislation in the EPW Committee. Swings to watch: Sens. Baucus (D-MT), Rockefeller (D-WV), Conrad (D-ND), Lincoln (D-AR), Stabenow (D-MI).

Foreign Relations: Senator John Kerry (D-MA) chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, which will have jurisdiction over international treaty compatibility, international funds, and other international investments. Sen. Kerry and his committee have demonstrated much interest in climate legislation and a binding international treaty. We expect Foreign Relations to be a strong ally. Swing to watch: Sen. Webb (D-VA)

Agriculture: Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) chairs the Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over domestic land use offsets, biofuels, biomass definitions, and commodities trading oversight. Getting support from rural interests on the Agriculture committee in the House was a major stumbling block for climate action. The Senate is generally even more representative of rural interests than the House. Hopefully the Senate will start with a blank slate on Agricultural issues, rather than working from the compromises made in the House. Swings to watch: Conrad (D-ND), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Sens. Baucus (D-MT), Lincoln (D-AR), Stabenow (D-MI).

Commerce, Science and Transportation: Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) chairs the Commerce Science and Transportation Committee, with jurisdiction over climate research, clean tech R&D, and public transit. The Committee wants to be involved, but their exact role remains to be clarified.

Energy and Natural Resources: Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) chairs the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, with jurisdiction over clean energy provisions, renewable electricity standard, nuclear provisions and offshore drilling. ENR passed their version of the legislation, the American Clean Energy and Leadership Act of 2009, in a 15-8 vote two weeks ago. Democratic Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) voted against the bill, while Republicans Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Bob Corker (R-TN) supported it. The bill aims to fast-track carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) coal projects, encourage offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, protect oil imports from the Canadian tar sands, and support new nuclear reactors.

The 15% by 2020 RES (with up to 4% coming from efficiency) features several new exemptions for states and utilities, lenient non-compliance measures, and vague definitions for qualifying renewable, efficiency, and biomass sources. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J) has vowed to introduce an amendment on the Senate floor to raise the RES to 25% by 2025. Bipartisan support will be necessary to compensate for lost Democratic votes -- Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and potentially Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.).

1Sky and other climate groups have taken a strong stance on the Senate energy bill, refusing to support it in its current form. The RES and other provisions from the committee bill will be revisited on the Senate floor.

3. Making sure the Senate climate and energy bill is strong

All six committees have the potential to strengthen this bill between now and September 18th but they won’t unless we work to pressure them in strategic ways. The three primary committees who have jurisdiction over what we asked to be strengthened in ACES (i.e. EPA authority, RES standard, and allocations to green jobs, adaptation, clean tech, etc) are EPW, Finance, and Foreign Relations. Any strengthening elements we win in committee, will have to be defended vigorously on the floor if we want to keep them intact. Some strengthening elements, like the RES, will likely be done in the form of floor amendments this fall.

4. The path to 60 votes

E&E News analysis has identified 45 "yes" or "probably yes" votes (including Republican Sens. Snowe and Collins of Maine), with 23 fence sitters. While has put together a fantastic, detailed analysis of forces underlying the Senate vote count, with some Democrats voicing opposition to climate action, it is unlikely that the new super majority alone will ensure Senate passage -- we need Republican votes. Sens McCaskill (D-MO) and Byrd (D-WV) have already made unfavorable comments since ACES passed.

The House ACES bill is an appealing framework for Senators looking to get 60 votes. There is general consensus that the structure of ACES will be the core legislative framework, but senators are also ready to tweak details of the bill. Says Sen. Tom Udall (D-CO):

There's a lot of momentum [in the Senate] to work on this. I think we've been tactically smart, letting the House go first. I think if they can find the sweet spot, it's a very similar sweet spot over here. Stay tuned.

Will compromises pick up more votes? Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) is rumored to be working with several Republicans on a substantial nuclear title for the new legislation. Though aimed at gathering necessary bipartisan support, increased support for nukes could result in lost Democratic votes from Sens. Boxer (D-CA), Menendez (D-N.J), Lautenberg (D-N.J) Sanders (D-VT) and Wyden (D-OR).

President Obama and members of the Executive branch continue to stress the importance of Senate passage, although what role they will assume in gathering both Senatorial and public support for the bill remains unclear. White House senior advisor David Axelrod says the bill will pass.

Interesting reads:

Here's a brief electoral analysis of the Senate, with respect to the 2008 election:

  • Even though there are 60 Democratic Senators, not all of them can claim Obama's mandate for climate action. In fact, 13 out of 60 democrats (over 20%) are from states Obama did not win;

  • Within states that Obama did win, there are 9 Republicans, many of whom do not share Obama's desire for climate action;

  • If all the Democrats from states Obama won vote for this bill, we will have 47 votes, and still need 13 more, at least 4 of which must come from states that McCain won in 2008;

  • In the House, Obama won 242 of the nation's 435 congressional districts, yet only got 219 votes for his climate bill. Thirty-four (34) of these districts voted for a Republican member of the House, and of those 34 Republican members from Obama districts, 7 of them voted for Obama's climate bill (~20%);

  • Takeaway: getting 60 votes for a strong bill in the Senate will be difficult, but not impossible. Obama's influence will be necessary, but will only take us so far. He'll need backup from the grassroots if we want to win over some of the more difficult swings.

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