At the Environment and Public Works hearing on Tuesday, both Secretary LaHood of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Administrator Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explained that emissions reductions progress is already underway in the transportation sector. Sec. LaHood stated, “We have much to do, but we are not waiting to begin taking aggressive and meaningful action.”
While the Congress has been working towards establishing comprehensive climate legislation, the DOT, EPA, and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have been collaborating to develop Federal policies that could help create sustainable communities. The aim is to support and shape state and local land use decisions and infrastructure investments to develop livable communities where people have the option to drive less. According to the DOT, on an average day American adults travel 25 million miles in trips of a half-mile or less and almost 60 percent use motor vehicles for this travel. Walking, biking, and riding transit, regardless of the area where an American might live, are excellent alternatives. “If the presence of these alternatives promotes less driving, then that will reduce road congestion, reduce pollutants and greenhouse gases, and use land more efficiently."
On Friday EPA released its first cut assessment of the economic impacts of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act of 2009 (S. 1733), the Senate‘s response to the House climate and energy bill passed in June. Senator Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, unveiled the analysis along with new details of the bill she is co-sponsoring with Senator Kerry (D-MA).
The bottom line: EPA anticipates that the Senate and House bills will yield very similar results in terms of overall costs, allowance prices, and emissions. Some differences in key provisions could raise the price tag of the Senate bill by up to 1% over its House counterpart. As for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the tighter 2020 target in the Senate bill -- requiring a 20% reduction in emissions compared to 2005 levels, as opposed to 17% in the House bill -- would reduce cumulative GHG emissions through 2050 by about 1% more than the House version.
This afternoon President Obama delivered an energizing speech to students and faculty of MIT on the need for the United States to draw on its “legacy of innovation” in transitioning to a clean energy future. We are engaged in a “peaceful competition” to develop the technologies that will drive the future global energy economy and he wants to see the U.S. emerge as the winner. The President further declared that in making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, we can lead the world in “preventing the worst consequences of climate change."
After citing the ongoing efforts of his Administration on this front, including the $80 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a the “Stimulus Package”) for clean energy, he talked about what’s needed next – comprehensive legislation to transform our energy system. He noted that this should include sustainable use of biofuels, safe nuclear power, and more use of renewables like wind and solar technology, all while growing the U.S economy. And he applauded Senator Kerry – also in attendance for the speech – for his work with Senator Boxer on their legislation.
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
Regardless of how enthusiastic one is about the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill passed by the House of Representatives in June, passing the bill in six months through a body that had never before wrestled with climate action was a major accomplishment. (For the record, the Pew Center was enthusiastic about the achievement, while seeing some room for improvement in the bill itself.) This week, Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry introduced their climate bill. It takes nothing from the House’s accomplishment to recognize that passing a bill through the Senate will be a steeper climb.
First, there’s the math. House passage requires a simple majority, which Waxman-Markey just managed, at 219 – 212. Passage through the Senate will essentially require a supermajority of 60 votes, because of the filibuster. (If you aren’t familiar with the filibuster, you don’t really need to be. Just trust me, it takes 60.)
Second, the rules of the House give the Speaker a great deal more control over the chamber’s agenda than the Senate gives its leader. Speaker Nancy Pelosi very adroitly defined the process by which her chamber hammered out a workable balance of competing objectives. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be herding cats.
We can get climate change legislation through the Senate, but it’s going to be a completely different animal. I’ll explore the hows and whys in future posts.