How the Senate Divides up the Climate/Energy Issue

In the House, the committee chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has jurisdiction over most matters touched on by the climate/energy bill.  In the Senate, jurisdiction over the bill is divided between six major committees.  This makes things complicated, since Congress does most of its work in its committees.

The House committee’s membership made it an excellent crucible for producing a balanced comprehensive climate and energy bill.  Even with most committee Republicans not involved in the drafting, there was a large enough majority of Democrats (36 out of 59) to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act on Democratic votes alone.  Moreover, committee Democrats were roughly divided between those eager to pass a bill and those more cautious, out of consideration for the bill’s possible impacts on the manufacturing or energy sectors in their districts.  This meant Rep. Waxman had to balance the bill’s economic and environmental objectives just to get it out of committee.

This is not as true with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), the committee largely in charge of writing the GHG cap-and-trade provisions of the bill.  The committee is not quite as regionally diverse as the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  This morning we heard that EPW Chairman Boxer plans to start holding hearings on the Kerry-Boxer bill around mid-November, presumably moving shortly thereafter to a “mark up” (the arcane term for when a committee formally amends and decides whether to pass a bill).  EPW passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2007 and is expected to do so again this year.  Even after it does so, however, it will take a few more twists and turns for the bill to win the support of 60 Senators. 

One option for doing this would be to have all six relevant committees tackle the aspects of the climate issue within their jurisdiction.  Eighty-one of the Senate’s 100 members sit on at least one of these six committees.  A robust committee process could therefore engage a much larger group of Senators than the 19 EPW members.  The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR) did in fact earlier this year pass a major bipartisan energy bill with provisions corresponding with many of the energy measures of the House bill.  The ENR Committee is going to continue exploring the climate issue next Wednesday with a hearing on energy and economic effects of climate change legislation.  Aside from ENR’s bill, however, it is not clear at this point whether all relevant Senate committees will be sitting formally to address the climate aspects of the bill.

Another option would be for key Senators, those especially focused on the bill’s implications for manufacturing, agriculture and energy supply, to rise up outside the committee process and engage in the specifics of the bill.  In fact, several ad hoc groups of moderate Democrats have crafted statements on the factors that would need to be addressed in a climate bill, the use of trade measures, the amount of allowance value needed to prevent carbon leakage, and the treatment of coal, setting a good precedent for their engagement.

Regardless of process by which the Senate at large is engaged, observers expect Senate Majority Leader Reid ultimately to be the one to forge the various inputs into a 60-vote bill – no doubt with major input from the President.  I will write more on this in a later post.

Manik Roy is Vice President, Federal Government Outreach