111th Congress Climate Change Legislation

The 111th Congress opened with high hopes for climate legislation. Shortly after being elected, President-elect Barack Obama released a statement placing enactment of a comprehensive climate and energy bill near the top of his list of legislative priorities. Following Obama’s lead, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, H.R. 2454, by a vote of 219 to 212 in June 2009, just five months into the new Congress. The legislation was written by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), chairman of a key subcommittee of the Waxman committee. The Waxman-Markey bill would have established an economy-wide, greenhouse gas (GHG) cap and trade system and critical complementary measures to help address climate change and build a clean energy economy.

Once the House passed the Waxman-Markey bill, the next step would have been for the Senate to have passed its own comprehensive climate and energy bill. Unfortunately, the Senate was unable to do so, despite much work by key committees and Senators. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S.1462) in June 2009 on a bipartisan vote of 15 to 8, amending it by unanimous consent in May 2010. This bill would have established a renewable energy standard and addressed several other energy-related issues. In November 2009, the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee passed the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act of 2009 (S.1733), drawing heavily from the Waxman-Markey bill in establishing a GHG cap-and-trade system. S.1733 passed the committee by a vote of 11-1, with all seven Republican members boycotting the final vote to protest the process by which the bill had been managed in committee.

With four other Senate committees holding jurisdiction over the legislation – Agriculture, Commerce, Finance, and Foreign Relations – the timing of the climate change debate within the broader Senate agenda remained unclear. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and, for a time, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), worked outside of the committee process in an attempt to broaden the base of support for the legislation within the Senate. Kerry and Lieberman released a draft discussion of their American Power Act in May 2010. The American Power Act would have established a GHG cap and trade system for utilities and industry while establishing a fee for transportation fuels.

Several other Senators offered their vision of climate legislation, as well. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act (S.2877), which would have capped carbon dioxide emissions, while allowing only very limited emissions trading, and rebating the revenue from this system directly back to the public on a per capita basis. Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the Practical Energy and Climate Plan (S.3464), intended to reduce oil imports, improve and create new efficiency standards, and establish a clean energy standard.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was expected to combine the various elements of the climate and energy legislative proposals into a comprehensive climate bill that he would bring to Senate floor. Citing a lack of bipartisan support in the Senate, however, Reid announced in July 2010 that upcoming energy legislation would not include a cap on GHG emissions. This effectively ended action on climate legislation for the 111th Congress.


Key legislative action:

The bills, resolutions, and amendments of the 111th Congress dealing with climate change are divided into the following categories: