Climate Interest, But No Action in the 113th Congress

The 113th Congress (2013-2014) is on track to be one of the least productive and most divided in history. No legislation explicitly mentioning climate change has been enacted into law, but more bills and resolutions related to climate change have been introduced in this Congress than in the previous one. (For brevity, we refer to all legislative proposals, including resolutions, and amendments, and draft bills, as “bills.”)

Only two bills loosely related to climate change (though not directly referencing it) have been passed and signed into law: the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act and the Hurricane Sandy Relief bill, which provided $17 billion and $9.7 billion, respectively, to cope with Sandy’s aftermath.

Of the 221 bills introduced that explicitly reference climate change or related terms, such as greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide, the majority support climate action. These focus primarily on building resilience to a changing climate, supporting the deployment of clean energy, and improving energy efficiency. A number would use some form of carbon pricing to reduce emissions.

Other bills introduced in the current Congress would impede climate action, for instance, by restricting or eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The president has said that he would veto any bill impeding the Clean Power Plan, EPA’s proposal to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants.

While members of Congress are back in their districts for summer recess, here is a by-the-numbers look at what they have proposed so far this term in the climate arena:

  • 221 climate-specific bills have been introduced, surpassing the 113 introduced during the entire 112th Congress (2011-2012), and perhaps on track to match the 263 of the 111th Congress (2009-2010).
  • 134 of the bills (61 percent) support climate action in some way.
  • 45 bills are intended to build resilience to climate impacts, compared with nine introduced in the previous Congress.
  • 22 bills supporting climate action have bipartisan co-sponsorship. Nine of them promote energy efficiency.
  • 56 bills, 11 of them bipartisan, would block or hinder EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Four such bills have passed the House, but none in the Senate.
  • 16 bills supporting climate action were written by Republicans, while 9 bills opposing climate action were written by Democrats, showing that while there are exceptions, climate issues continue to largely fall along partisan lines.
  • 16 bills would block or hinder federal agencies from using the social cost of carbon in federal rulemaking.
  • 3 bills seek to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.

Congress has voted on 18 of these bills, most of which have passed the House of Representatives. The bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill had the broadest base of support of any energy measure in this Congress. Yet, in May 2014, the bill fell five votes short of the 60 needed to bring it to a final vote in the Senate – a casualty of disagreements over whether to consider amendments to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and prohibit EPA’s carbon dioxide regulations.

Since the Senate’s failure to advance the House-passed Waxman-Markey bill in 2010, few bills have been introduced to put a price on carbon. There were only two carbon pricing proposals introduced last Congress. However, this Congress so far has seen six carbon pricing proposals. Five would establish a carbon tax (also called a “carbon pollution fee”) and one would establish a cap-and-dividend program (a cap-and-trade program that would rebate program revenues to consumers).

These ideas, however, are unlikely to gain traction in this Congress. 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. In addition, nine bills opposing pricing carbon have been introduced this Congress. One passed out of the House of Representatives by a strong majority, 237-176, when it was offered as an amendment to a House regulatory reform bill.

When lawmakers return in September for a few weeks before hitting the campaign trail, the most pressing issue they face is passing a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government before the October 1 start of the new fiscal year. House Republican leaders have said they will press to include an amendment blocking EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions – a provision Senate Democratic leadership and the president would oppose.

It would be refreshing to see Congress pass a clean CR, bring Shaheen-Portman for another vote, and consider other bipartisan measures that can help address our climate and energy challenges before the end of the session, when all unpassed bills will expire. But it’s clear there is no near-term prospect of major climate legislation, which is why it is so critical that EPA continue to work closely with states, power companies, local governments, and other stakeholders, on its Clean Power Plan to allow implementation, innovation, and flexibility.