The first year of the 113th Congress (2013-2014) draws to a close with no passage of climate-specific legislation, but signs that some in Congress understand the importance of addressing this issue. More bills were introduced that support climate action than oppose it. (For brevity, we refer to all legislative proposals as “bills.”)
Here’s a by-the-numbers look at what Congress has done so far this term explicitly referencing climate change or related terms, such as greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide:
In the aftermath of the Senate’s failure to pass the House-passed Waxman-Markey  bill in 2010, it has been three years since a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill has been introduced in Congress. A bill to establish a carbon tax  – also known as a carbon pollution fee – has been introduced in every Congress since the Stark-McDermott Save Our Climate Act of 2007. The idea , however, is unlikely to gain traction in this Congress. Five measures express opposition to a carbon tax. 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.
Perhaps the most significant laws enacted by this Congress relating to climate change didn’t mention the words “climate change” at all. The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act provided $17 billion in emergency funding for Sandy relief. The Hurricane Sandy Relief bill provided $9.7 billion in increased borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program  to deal with Sandy’s aftermath. Sea level rise caused by climate change is exacerbating the impacts of coastal storms like Sandy. The National Flood Insurance Program, in many cases operating with outdated flood zone maps that don’t reflect the true danger from rising sea levels, increased precipitation, and heightened storm surge, is about $24 billion in debt.
It is encouraging that there are more bills that support climate action than oppose it. These bills primarily focus on building resilience to a changing climate and improving energy efficiency, which can attract bipartisan support. Congress has acted on very few of these bills, however. Even bills with strong bipartisan support, such as the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, have not been brought to a vote.
We remain cautiously optimistic that this political gridlock will pass and Congress will act on climate.