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DC Hill update 9/22: Climate Bill Waits Its Turn as the Global Conversation Heats Up

22
Sep

DC Hill update 9/22: Climate Bill Waits Its Turn as the Global Conversation Heats Up

Though timing remains fairly ambiguous, the climate bill continues to float along in the wake of healthcare, with still lingering hopes for consideration this fall. 1Sky is pushing hard to keep it on the roster given the climate emergency we confront.

1. Climate Bill Timing

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated that a climate and energy bill may have to wait until 2010 due to a busy legislative calendar. Almost immediately after, his office clarified his statement, with a spokesman affirming the Senator "still intends to take health care reform, [financial] regulatory reform and cap-and-trade to the Senate floor by the end of the year." Reid clarified his statements on Friday afternoon:

We've always talked about doing climate after health care, OK? The president has been pushing hard on regulation reform. Maybe we do that first. I don't think so. But there's no reason we can't do both of them. (subs. req'd)

Asked whether a delay would amount to a setback for President Barack Obama’s priorities on the issue, spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters: “No, I think we can continue to make progress.”

Many have stressed that progress must be made on a climate bill before the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen this December. With all the committee action taking place and the realization that Copenhagen is a crucial link in the long chain of climate progress, it seems there are recent reasons to be optimistic about the negotiations. As lead US climate negotiator Todd Stern says,

The mission is to get the most ambitious, most far-reaching accord that we can in Copenhagen, and to the extent that there's some things that need to be completed after that, then that will happen.

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) are reportedly planning to release their draft climate bill introduced into the Environment and Public Works Committee by the end of the month (i.e. next week!). "We have a mental deadline," Kerry said, "We are aiming for this month." (subscription req'd)

2. A Packed Legislative Agenda

The Senate's calendar is looking especially busy, with health care, a clean energy jobs bill and potentially financial reform all on the docket for the next few months.

Health care continues to suck most of the political oxygen in Washington. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) unveiled his health care bill on Tuesday after months of negotiations. The Finance Committee markup is expected to begin Tuesday, Sept. 22nd. Baucus will meet Thursday, Sept. 24 with the full committee, and amendments will be due Friday, Sept 25 at 5 p.m. If this timeline (or something similar) is adhered to, Baucus and his committee could begin working on climate legislation around the end of the month -- although speedy health care progress is looking more and more unlikely as Senators and the press speak out against the Baucus proposal.

President Obama spoke on Wall Street on Monday (9/14) to mark the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. In his speech, he urged Congress to pass increased financial regulatory reform that would be stricter to bankers and brokers. It's unclear precisely when the Senate will undertake these reform efforts.

The Administration and the Senate continue to cite climate as a top agenda item for this fall. Despite the Senate's competing priorities, 1Sky and its allies will continue to proceed with a clear demand for action now, applying grassroots pressure in key states so that the full Senate is prepared for swift consideration of the climate bill as soon as possible this fall.

3. Senators Get to Work on Climate Provisions

A group of eight Senators, headed by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) released proposed language on carbon capture and storage (CCS) deployment for a climate bill. Joining Carper in authoring the draft language were Senators Baucus, Mark Warner (D-VA), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA), and Robert Byrd (D-WV), with two Senators (Lieberman and Klobuchar) announcing their support for the language after it was written. The fact that Senator Byrd has joined the conversation about climate legislation is significant, as he has been an outspoken opponent of clean energy legislation in the past. Much of the language is similar to language already in the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House, although one changed provision would exempt methane pollution from landfills and coal-beds from a carbon cap. That move alone, if included in the Senate climate bill, would increase global warming pollution by about 100 million tons in 2020.

Sens. Boxer and Kerry have continued to highlight key elements of their draft legislation. Energy Daily relays that the Kerry-Boxer bill will likely include a price collar mechanism that will aim to constrain price volatility in carbon markets and keep prices from rising too dramatically. Energy Daily also suggests that the Kerry-Boxer bill will raise short term emissions reductions targets to 20% below 2020 and preserve the EPA's authority to set performance standards for large emitters, like coal-fired power plants.

1Sky and our allies have been pushing for these two and other key changes for months (PDF). We are continuing to push for stronger legislation via calls to the Senate this week.

4. Conservative pundits and lobbyists dig up highly inaccurate cost analysis (again)

Declan McCullough, A conservative blogger at CBS News posted about a memo circulated by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank partially funded by Exxon Mobil with a history of combating efforts to stop global warming, claiming that the Obama Administration is hiding the "true cost" of cap and trade proposals moving through Congress. Their evidence? A months-old memo from the Treasury Department that analyzes an entirely different proposal. A spokesman from the Treasury Department answered the accusations by saying,

The reporting on the Treasury analysis is flat out wrong . . . It is time for an honest debate about how to solve a long-term challenge and deliver comprehensive energy reform - not for misrepresentations of the facts.

Read E3's Kristen Sheeran's guest blog for a well-deserved take-down of McCullough's shoddy analysis.

5. US CO2 Emissions Drop Substantially in 2009

Good news! Last week the Energy Information Agency (EIA) announced that it "projects that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels will fall by 6.0 percent in 2009." The drop in emissions is attributed to a weak economy, low natural gas prices, state renewable energy standards, and a clean-energy-friendly stimulus.

Since current climate legislation is written as if we were starting from 2005 emissions levels, this drop takes us 8.5% below 2005 levels - halfway toward the 17% target set for 2020 in the ACES bill, when the cap hasn't even gone into affect. Though this is good news in the short term, it's also a reminder that our recovery has the potential to rebuild America in a way that allows for low-carbon growth. As growth kicks in again, we must seize the opportunity to jumpstart the economy in a way that moves us onto a fast track to building a clean energy economy.

This news makes it even easier for the U.S. to hit strong carbon reduction targets by 2020 - like the 20% cut proposed by Sens. Kerry and Boxer in their forthcoming draft bill. However, it also means that adjustments should be made to the bill to ensure a consistent carbon price, and an appropriate number of allowances in early years.

6. Welcome to "Climate Week"

This week is being dubbed "Climate Week" by many policy makers and climate activists, due to the variety of crucial meetings, events, and negotiations taking place worldwide. This week could dictate much of the future of a global climate deal.

The UN General Assembly is meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday in New York City, drawing heads of state from all over the world to Manhattan to continue working on a global climate treaty. President Obama will be just one of the many speakers at the event. Check out climateweeknyc.org to see all the incredible events that will be accompanying the UN meetings, including the premieres of No Impact Man and The Age of Stupid, films with which 1Sky is partnering .

Later in the week, the G20 Meeting will be taking place in Pittsburgh, PA. The meeting of finance ministers from the 20 largest economies in the world will feature extensive discussion of how to finance a global climate treaty. Reuters reports that President Obama will call on the G20 to revoke fossil fuel subsidies.

Prepared by Jason Kowalski and Ben Wessel. Questions? Comments? Email jason@1sky.org.

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