The 2006 elections have significantly improved the prospects of reasonable climate policy in the United States. While it is not yet clear how many of the newly-elected senators and representatives are prepared to vote for mandatory climate change measures, the new Democratic congressional majority puts control of the agenda in the hands of policymakers who, to a large extent, favor climate action.
This is especially true in the Senate, where starting in 2007, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a cosponsor of one of the most aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade bills yet introduced, will chair the Environment and Public Works Committee (which has jurisdiction over the regulation of GHG emissions); Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), also the author of GHG cap-and-trade bill, will chair the Energy Committee (which drives US energy policy); and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who has consistently voted in support of mandatory climate action, will be the new Majority Leader, which makes him responsible for setting the agenda for Senate action.
The picture in the House of Representatives, while not quite as clear as in the Senate, seems to have improved as well. The new Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), supports mandatory climate measures. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), the new chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee (which has jurisdiction over GHG regulation), while a strong defender of U.S. auto interests, is planning hearings on climate change and has reportedly told the auto industry to prepare for tough emission measures.
None of this suggests that enactment of mandatory climate change measures will be a simple matter. In particular, five of the new Democratic Senators come from states -- Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia -- where mandatory climate action is not an easy sell. A similar story can be told for the new Democratic Representatives.
More difficult to predict is the role of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). McCain, in partnership with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), wrote the first GHG cap-and-trade bill in 2003 and forced the Senate votes on it in 2003 and 2005. McCain’s commitment to climate action has been among the most important factors in advancing the issue in Congress to date. Now McCain is considered a front runner for presidency in 2008. If he becomes the Republican nominee in 2008 and continues to force votes on his climate change bill, anything is possible: Moderates from both parties might have an easier time voting for a climate change bill if its author is the head of the Republican Party.
All told, given:
we are optimistic that enactment of mandatory US climate action is plausible by 2008 and likely by 2010.