Climate Compass Blog
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.
EPA has proposed what many are calling the Agency’s first major step down the road to regulating greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources. The newly proposed “tailoring” rule applies to requirements for major new or expanded sources and to permits for stationary sources, but does so in a carefully targeted manner. It’s the right place for EPA to start.
It’s critical to understand both what the proposal does and doesn’t do, and why EPA needed to begin here.
Contrary to some press accounts, the proposed rule does not impose new control requirements on all large stationary sources. Best available control technologies would be required only of new stationary sources that emit over 25,000 tons per year or major modifications to existing sources that increase emissions by 10,000-25,000 tons per year – a range EPA sought comment on. If yours is not one of the estimated 400 major new or modified facilities each year, you do not face any (new or old) control requirements limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposal also requires that EPA (and states) include greenhouse gas emissions in the permits of roughly 14,000 facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons per year of these pollutants. These permits do not impose any new controls on any source; they simply incorporate into a permit EPA’s new mandatory reporting requirements.
It’s been difficult for average citizens to imagine what global warming means for them. After all, a few degrees of increase in the global mean temperature doesn’t seem too bad. But one consequence that has already been documented is an increase in intense downpours with longer dry periods in between. A recent report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program said,
“Changes in the geographical distribution of droughts and flooding have been complex. In some regions, there have been increases in the occurrences of both droughts and floods.” (p. 18) “The widespread trend toward more heavy downpours is expected to continue, with precipitation becoming less frequent but more intense.” (p. 24)
The historic drought that gripped the Southeast for the better part of two years and the severe flooding that hit the same region last week illustrate this pattern all too graphically.
BANGKOK -- It’s no surprise, in the pre-Copenhagen posturing, that the United States is once again seen by many as the single greatest obstacle to an effective global climate effort. The truth, though, is that the U.S. is hardly alone. On all the key issues – emission targets, developing country commitments, and finance – other key players aren’t ready to strike a final deal either.
In his address last week to a high-level UN climate summit, President Obama offered an impressive list of early accomplishments. Yet as was painfully evident, absent comprehensive legislation from Congress, the administration comes to the negotiating table with loads of good intention, but not yet prepared to take on binding international commitments.
Other countries, meanwhile, appear to be showing some movement.
Both China and India, long viewed as the other principal barriers to agreement, are signaling a new willingness to act - at least domestically. President Hu Jintao told the UN summit that China will set a goal to reduce its carbon intensity by a “notable margin.” India’s government is talking about setting domestic goals to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. These steps are encouraging, and may help inoculate the two countries against blame in the event Copenhagen is a failure. But in neither case has the government offered specific numbers or said it is prepared to translate its actions into international commitments.
Yukio Hatoyama of Japan did come to the summit with a number. Two weeks earlier, fresh from his landmark election victory, the new prime minister had set aside the previous government’s goal of reducing emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, a target roughly in line with the numbers being debated in Washington. In its place, he declared a far more ambitious goal of 25 percent below 1990 levels – provided other major economies pony up their fair share.
Over the past two weeks, three utilities – PG&E, PNM Resources, and Exelon – made public decisions not to renew their membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These three companies are members of both our Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC), as well as the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), of which we are a founding member. We have been asked a lot recently to comment on the significance of these moves, and whether other companies will follow suit.
The decision by these companies to exit the chamber is another clear indication that the political dynamic surrounding climate change legislation has changed dramatically in the last several years. No longer can businesses be counted on to march in lockstep opposition to mandatory greenhouse gas legislation. In fact, today the companies involved in USCAP and other progressive business coalitions have emerged as some of the biggest and most effective supporters of comprehensive climate change legislation. Business support was critical in moving climate change to the top of the Congressional agenda, and will likely be the deciding factor in steering legislation to enactment.
While we do not comment on the internal decision-making of the companies with which we partner, in the case of PG&E, PNM Resources, and Exelon, the time had obviously come when the differences between their strong commitment to Congressional action on climate change was irreconcilably at odds with that of the Chamber. In his letter to Tom Donahue, CEO of the Chamber, PG&E CEO Peter Darbee wrote:
“A case in point is the Chamber’s recent much-publicized call to put climate change science ‘on trial.’ We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored … To the extent … the Chamber earnestly believes these questions should be heard in a courtroom, let’s recall that the U.S. Supreme Court opined on the threat of climate in a 2007 decision. ‘The harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized,’ the Court wrote.”