Climate Compass Blog

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

Business Continues to Rally for Climate Action

While Congress continues to debate health care, the business community this week continued to lead on climate change.  On Tuesday, we joined 6 other  NGOs and 22 companies to launch a new full-page ad supporting comprehensive clean energy and climate change legislation.  Fourteen members of our Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC) signed on to the ad, which ran in The Washington Post, The NY Times and USA Today.  For several of these companies, this was the first time they have stood up so publicly to support capping carbon.  Other ads from similar coalitions are running in papers all across the country.

I also want to give props to Honeywell for joining the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP).  Honeywell is a $28 billion manufacturer of all types of goods from aerospace to home heating and cooling.  By joining USCAP, they further demonstrate the diversity of industries that are committed to tackling climate change through the Blueprint for Legislative Action

The Midwest Moves Forward with Energy and Job Solutions

Earlier this week, the Midwestern Governors Association (MGA) convened key regional stakeholders and leaders from around the world for its Jobs and Energy Forum and announced a hopeful, forward-looking economic and environmental vision. The setting could not have been better suited to highlight the urgency with which these new initiatives are needed by both the Midwest and the nation as a whole. Detroit has been hit as hard as anywhere by the economic slump; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in the greater Detroit metropolitan area hit 17 percent in August, and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, in her remarks, noted that Michigan has lost close to a million jobs in a little less than a decade. Against this backdrop, many of the participants discussed the need for a new energy paradigm that addresses our economic, security, and environmental concerns. Even as the U.S. Senate prepares to tackle energy and climate legislation this fall, the Midwest made clear this week that it intends to move forward regardless of what happens in D.C. 

State & Provincial Leaders from Around the World Renew Call for National-Level Climate Action

LOS ANGELES -- Sub-national leaders from over 50 countries gathered last week in Los Angeles, California as part of Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2nd annual Global Governor’s Climate Summit. Topics ranged from public health impacts of climate change to technological solutions to the role of youth leadership and education. The summit kicked off with a surprise appearance by Harrison Ford, announcing the establishment of a new collaboration convened by Conservation International called Team Earth, which will focus its first effort on global deforestation. Forests emerged as a recurring theme of the discussions here. Motivated by concern that deforestation must not be excluded from the negotiations of a climate treaty this time around, 11 governors from the U.S., Brazil, and Indonesia signed a memo addressed to their nations’ presidents, pressing for a robust deforestation policy mechanism to come out of Copenhagen.  

Leaders from across the globe also expressed growing concern about preparing their citizens to adapt to climate change. It is clear that leaders on the local level are worried about the impacts that are already being felt by their citizens and are anticipating their growing role in implementing policies to address adaptation, in addition to greenhouse gas reductions.  Some have even begun to classify jobs in climate adaptation as “green jobs” and are working to expand the number of these jobs in their jurisdictions.

Another overarching takeaway is the sense that local and regional governments embrace their important role in combating climate change, repeatedly referring to policies implemented at sub-national levels across the globe as examples for national action.

The Federal Courts Once Again Weigh in on Climate Change

What have the courts figured out that Congress hasn’t yet gotten its arms around?

In a potentially far reaching decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the federal courts have once again stepped into the breach and ruled that states and private landowners can sue the five largest electric utilities for climate-related damages they contend were caused by the utilities’ carbon dioxide pollution  (Connecticut v. American Electric Power Corp. et al. 2nd Circuit 2009). The appeals court overturned a district court opinion that dismissed the case on the basis that it presented a “political question” that should be decided by another branch of government (Congress or the Executive Branch).  The Appeals Court held that until Congressional or regulatory action occurred, common law protections against damage from greenhouse gas pollution are a legitimate basis for a court suit.  The case was sent back to the District Court for further proceedings. 

Together with the landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision (Mass. v EPA), that has set EPA down the path of regulating greenhouse gas emissions, these court cases underscore a growing recognition by federal courts that the threat of greenhouse gas emissions represent a genuine threat and warrant legal review.

From a practical standpoint, this case cranks up the pressure on both Congress and EPA to act.  Case-by case litigation would be disruptive, expensive and problematic given the scope of the challenges we face.  The Court’s decision recognizes that these common law public nuisance cases may be preempted by Congressional or executive branch action.  It should be increasingly clear to all that the best way forward would be for Congress to pass comprehensive climate legislation.