The 112th Congress on climate change: Deadlocked

As Congress heads home this week to campaign for re-election, we thought we’d round up a list of all the bills, resolutions, and amendments so far this Congress that focus on climate change.  (For brevity, all legislative proposals are referred to here as “bills.”)  This is not a comprehensive list of the more than 1,000 bills touching on energy, environment, transportation, agriculture and other areas that would have an impact on climate change.  Rather it’s a list of the bills whose authors thought it was important to explicitly reference climate change or related terms such as greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide – terms that themselves have become political flash points.

Here’s the picture that emerges: Reflecting an anti-regulatory mood on Capitol Hill, there have been nearly as many proposals to block efforts to curb carbon emissions as proposals to strengthen them.  And, reflecting the general state of gridlock in Congress, virtually none of the bills proposed has been enacted.

By the numbers:

  • 113 climate-specific bills have been introduced in the 112th Congress (2011-2012).  This compares with 263 such bills introduced in the Congress before this one, 235 in the Congress before that, and 106, 96, 80, 25, and seven, respectively, in the Congressional terms before that.
  • 57 of the bills (52 percent) support climate action in some way. However, for the first time since the introduction of the McCain-Lieberman greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill nearly a decade ago (January 2003), not a single cap-and-trade bill has been introduced.  Most take much smaller steps, like preparing the United States to adapt to climate change or preserving voluntary greenhouse gas reduction programs in a bill that would otherwise block the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change work. The two bills that propose a comprehensive approach to reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would establish a carbon tax. (Two of the bills mention greenhouse gases without clearly supporting or hindering climate action.)
  • 54 bills would block or hinder climate action – a new record.
  • 40 of these anti-climate action bills would prohibit or hinder regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily by preventing EPA from regulating under the Clean Air Act. Three of these have passed the House, then died in the Senate. A fourth, which would specifically roll back regulations affecting coal mining and coal-powered generation, passed the House today and is expected to meet the same fate in the Senate. For its part, the Senate has voted on four bills to prevent, delay or modify EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, all of which failed as well.
  • 6 bills would block the 2007 law that prevents federal agencies from procuring fuels derived from oil sands and other petroleum sources that emit more greenhouse gases than conventional fuels throughout their lifecycles.
  • 3 bills would prevent U.S airlines’ compliance with the European Union’s carbon pricing requirement for airlines flying into Europe. This prohibition has passed the House and could well pass the Senate by the time the 112th wraps up.
  • 4 bills would repeal the existing tax incentives and loan guarantees for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), a key technology for reducing the carbon footprint of fossil fuel use. On the other hand, eight bills would advance CCS, including a bipartisan bill introduced yesterday to improve an existing tax credit for CCS used for enhanced oil recovery.

Lest you think climate change is a purely partisan issue these days, 11 of the pro-climate action bills were written by Republicans. Meanwhile, three of the four Senate bills to delay or modify EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases were written by Democrats.

Interestingly, perhaps the most significant law enacted by this Congress addressing climate change didn’t mention the words “climate change” at all – the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program. Among other things, the bill seeks to ensure that “the best available science regarding future changes in sea levels, precipitation, and intensity of hurricanes” are factored into future calculations of flood risk.

This is a sign of our strange times: You may take steps forward as long as you don’t name the problem you’re trying to solve.