Policy Update 1/3/2011: First week of the 112th Congress
Policy Update 1/3/2011: First week of the 112th Congress
This week marks the first days of greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the beginning of the new Congress. The first phase of Clean Air Act regulation began on Sunday, January 2, a process that creates incentives for cleaner electricity sources such as renewables over older technology such as coal-fired power plants. Stage-managing for the 112th Congress will be the primary goal of the coming weeks. With leadership changing over the the House, new members will be focused on ceremonial actions, like a reading of the Constitution on the House floor and cutting House office budgets by a mere 5%. Meanwhile, the Senate could potentially take up meaningful filibuster reform this Wednesday, a move that could potentially ease gridlock on many issues, including climate.
Clean Air Act for Greenhouse Gases Kicks in January 2
Starting January 2, 49 state-level clean air agencies will begin requiring permits for new sources of pollution. State agencies will require permits for new coal plants and modifications of existing plants, but the oldest dirtiest plants will be regulated at a later date.
- Texas is the only state that is not prepared to set new regulations for big polluters, but the EPA has stepped in and will issue permits in place of state authorities who are being ordered not to comply with the new rules by Governor Rick Perry (R-TX). Texas produces more coal pollution than any other state.
The EPA recently announced its schedule for a second track of regulations involving performance standards for existing power plants under the CAA. Standards for the oldest dirtiest coal plants will be announced in July 2011 and finalized in May 2012. Grist's Dave Roberts gives a plain-spoken overview of what this means and how it compares to the first wave of climate regulations already up and running:Groups celebrate recent CAA accomplishments
- NRDC gives a rundown of the long list of the CAA's accomplishments.
- The American Lung Association published a list of the 11 "biggest" clean air events of 2010, many strongly correlated with climate achievements (and setbacks).
Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) is poised to lead charge using the Gingrich-era "Congressional Review Act," a measure similar to the Dirty Air Act Senator Murkowski (R-AK) failed to pass in the last Congress.
The more likely route, however, is to defund the EPA. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is ready to play defense against legislative attacks from Congress.
More good news on coal
The specter of regulations, local grassroots opposition, and unfavorable economics are causing investors to move away from new coal facilities. Construction did not begin on a single new coal plant in 2010 (for the second straight year). Furthermore, "coal is a dead man walkin'," says Kevin Parker, global head of asset management and a member of the executive committee at Deutsche Bank. "Banks won't finance them. Insurance companies won't insure them. The EPA is coming after them... And the economics to make it clean don't work."
Possible Filibuster Reform in the SenateFilibuster reform is top of the agenda for senators this week. Filibuster rules are re-established every two years at the beginning of each Congress. Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are currently leading discussions on how traditional rules might be reformed. Though the discussions have yet to produce a consensus, there is hope for some sort of bipartisan agreement that will lead to a more productive session of Congress.Grist's David Roberts has more on why this is important for climate hawks. TPM's Brian Beutler has a more detailed play-by-play for what might transpire in the Senate.
New GOP-Lead House
- The new House leadership will roll out new rules including ceremonial measures such as plans to read the Constitution aloud on the House floor.
- The GOP House leadership plans to target the budget process, but haven't identified where spending cuts will come from.
- In fact, new "cut as you go" rules (replacing the Democrats' "pay as you go" rules), will make it easier for lawmakers to increase the deficit. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has more.
- In addition to rolling back the Clean Air Act, Chairman Upton (R-MI) plans to push for a vote to repeal health care reform, despite the two-thirds majority hurdle necessary to overcome a presidential veto.
- The new class of freshman lawmakers has been marked by unconventional staff selection. For example freshman Rep. Gosar (R-AZ), a dentist new to elected office, hired a fellow dentist from Wasilla, AK to be his new Chief of Staff, presumably as a reward for introducing him to Sarah Palin.
Redistricting for 2012
- As a result of changing population demographics, many congressional seats will shift to the South and West in the 2012 election.
- Republican political strategists released a comprehensive 50-state table showing redistricting processes.
- National Journal lists House members who could potentially lose their seats.
- To demonstrate the power held by state redistricting bodies, USC students created an online redistricting game where users can re-draw district boundaries to help their party win an election.
A Surprisingly Productive Lame Duck
Contrary to DC's conventional wisdom, the 111th Congress passed more meaningful legislation than any lame-duck Congress since Word War II. The five major legislative accomplishments included: the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; the food safety bill; the 9/11 first responders bill; the New START nuclear arms treaty ratification; and the tax cut compromise that extended the Bush tax cuts, created new Obama tax cuts, and ensured continued support for renewable energy projects.
- CQ's Congress.org suggests that grassroots pressure was a major factor influencing the lame-duck session, especially with respect to repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell."
- Politico's Darren Samuelsohn has a thorough selection of quotes from GOP leaders affirming their previous commitments to fighting climate change, including Sarah Palin, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and 2012 presidential hopefuls like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
- Accomplished environmental economist Nat Keohane from the Environmental Defense Fund will join Obama's council of economic advisers.
- The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts rising CO2 levels from the U.S. with the current lack of legislation.
- Cables published by Wikileaks revealed that U.S. climate negotiators were hacked before Copenhagen – just as the University of East Anglia was before "Climategate."
- Groups like Union of Concerned Scientists are ramping up climate education campaigns to fight back against politicians who deny climate science.