Climate Compass Blog

Climate Interest, But No Action in the 113th Congress

The 113th Congress (2013-2014) is on track to be one of the least productive and most divided in history. No legislation explicitly mentioning climate change has been enacted into law, but more bills and resolutions related to climate change have been introduced in this Congress than in the previous one. (For brevity, we refer to all legislative proposals, including resolutions, and amendments, and draft bills, as “bills.”)

Only two bills loosely related to climate change (though not directly referencing it) have been passed and signed into law: the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act and the Hurricane Sandy Relief bill, which provided $17 billion and $9.7 billion, respectively, to cope with Sandy’s aftermath.

Of the 221 bills introduced that explicitly reference climate change or related terms, such as greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide, the majority support climate action. These focus primarily on building resilience to a changing climate, supporting the deployment of clean energy, and improving energy efficiency. A number would use some form of carbon pricing to reduce emissions.

Other bills introduced in the current Congress would impede climate action, for instance, by restricting or eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The president has said that he would veto any bill impeding the Clean Power Plan, EPA’s proposal to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants.

While members of Congress are back in their districts for summer recess, here is a by-the-numbers look at what they have proposed so far this term in the climate arena:

  • 221 climate-specific bills have been introduced, surpassing the 113 introduced during the entire 112th Congress (2011-2012), and perhaps on track to match the 263 of the 111th Congress (2009-2010).
  • 134 of the bills (61 percent) support climate action in some way.
  • 45 bills are intended to build resilience to climate impacts, compared with nine introduced in the previous Congress.
  • 22 bills supporting climate action have bipartisan co-sponsorship. Nine of them promote energy efficiency.
  • 56 bills, 11 of them bipartisan, would block or hinder EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Four such bills have passed the House, but none in the Senate.
  • 16 bills supporting climate action were written by Republicans, while 9 bills opposing climate action were written by Democrats, showing that while there are exceptions, climate issues continue to largely fall along partisan lines.
  • 16 bills would block or hinder federal agencies from using the social cost of carbon in federal rulemaking.
  • 3 bills seek to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.

Congress has voted on 18 of these bills, most of which have passed the House of Representatives. The bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill had the broadest base of support of any energy measure in this Congress. Yet, in May 2014, the bill fell five votes short of the 60 needed to bring it to a final vote in the Senate – a casualty of disagreements over whether to consider amendments to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and prohibit EPA’s carbon dioxide regulations.

Since the Senate’s failure to advance the House-passed Waxman-Markey bill in 2010, few bills have been introduced to put a price on carbon. There were only two carbon pricing proposals introduced last Congress. However, this Congress so far has seen six carbon pricing proposals. Five would establish a carbon tax (also called a “carbon pollution fee”) and one would establish a cap-and-dividend program (a cap-and-trade program that would rebate program revenues to consumers).

These ideas, however, are unlikely to gain traction in this Congress. Of the two Senate bills that would establish a carbon tax, one failed 33-66 when it was offered as an amendment to the Senate budget bill. In addition, nine bills opposing pricing carbon have been introduced this Congress. One passed out of the House of Representatives by a strong majority, 237-176, when it was offered as an amendment to a House regulatory reform bill.

When lawmakers return in September for a few weeks before hitting the campaign trail, the most pressing issue they face is passing a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government before the October 1 start of the new fiscal year. House Republican leaders have said they will press to include an amendment blocking EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions – a provision Senate Democratic leadership and the president would oppose.

It would be refreshing to see Congress pass a clean CR, bring Shaheen-Portman for another vote, and consider other bipartisan measures that can help address our climate and energy challenges before the end of the session, when all unpassed bills will expire. But it’s clear there is no near-term prospect of major climate legislation, which is why it is so critical that EPA continue to work closely with states, power companies, local governments, and other stakeholders, on its Clean Power Plan to allow implementation, innovation, and flexibility.

My mission at C2ES: Building common ground

I’m honored and excited to be taking the helm today of an organization that has done so much to build common ground for practical climate and energy solutions. Throughout my career, I’ve worked to bring diverse interests together to protect both our environment and our economy. I’m eager to continue that work at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

We are at a critical time, with both the obligation and the opportunity to forge lasting solutions to the profound challenge of climate change. Innovation is opening new possibilities in transportation, energy efficiency and generation, resource extraction, and renewable energy.  With smart and creative policy, we can harness and drive this innovation – and the power of markets – to secure our energy, economic and climate future.

During my time at EPA, in the nonprofit sector, and in state and local government, I’ve worked together with stakeholders to find consensus solutions to complex challenges. From neighborhood redevelopment efforts, to statewide solid waste plans, to working with auto and energy companies on EPA rules, bringing people together has not always been easy, but it’s always proven the best way forward.

And that is precisely what distinguishes C2ES – a commitment to bringing people together to forge practical policy solutions. From the local to the global, C2ES works closely with members of its Business Environmental Leadership Council, with policymakers, and with a wide array of other stakeholders to unpack the issues and options and to build common ground.

I want to thank the C2ES Board of Directors, and most importantly our founding president, Eileen Claussen, for building such an outstanding organization, and for entrusting me with its stewardship. I look forward to working with the board, and with the dedicated and talented C2ES team, to broaden our reach and our impact in the years ahead.   

There is so much remarkable work going on in the United States and around the world to develop innovative, practical solutions that meet our climate, energy and economic needs. I’m excited to bring my own energy to C2ES to help meet this historic challenge. Future generations are counting on us all to keep that vision in sight.

Two smartphone apps help you shop with sustainability in mind

Little things add up. Switching off the lights when you leave a room, adjusting your thermostat when you go to work, or running your washing machine on cold all can save energy, save money, and help the environment. But what about the dozens of other small choices we all make without much thought, from what type of soap we use to what type of food we serve for dinner?

Two smartphone apps can help make the dizzying array of daily choices a little simpler and more sustainable.

The interdependence of water and energy

Have you ever thought that by leaving a light on, you’re wasting water, or that a leaky faucet wastes energy? It’s odd, but accurate.

That’s because water and energy are interrelated. Water is used in all phases of energy production, and energy is required to extract, pump, and move water for human consumption. Energy is also needed to treat wastewater so it can be safely returned to the environment.

C2ES recently hosted a series of webinars (video and slides here) on the intersection between water and energy (sometimes referred to as the “nexus”). The series was co-sponsored by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center. Participants discussed how the water and energy sectors depend on each other and how they can work together to conserve resources.

CCS projects see progress

Three recent announcements signal important progress toward greater deployment of technology to capture and store carbon emissions that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere. CCS technology can capture up to 90 percent of emissions from power plants and industrial facilities and is critical to reducing climate-changing emissions while fossil fuels remain part of our energy mix.

One piece of good news came when NRG Energy announced it has begun construction on the Petra Nova Project in Texas, where an existing coal-fired power plant will be retrofitted with carbon capture equipment. The Petra Nova Project will be the world’s third commercial-scale CCS power project, following the nearly-completed SaskPower Boundary Dam project in Saskatchewan, Canada, and Southern Company’s Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi opening in 2015.