Cap-and-Trade Proponents Look Ahead to Next Congress

Posted June 4, 2008 at 2:56pm

Supporters of cap-and-trade climate change legislation are looking to the unfolding Senate floor debate this week to map out how the sweeping bill can be enacted into law during the next Congress and under a new president.

“This is why we have to get started, because it won’t happen in a day,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who last month acknowledged that the bill faces an uphill fight. “It’s a very long road to get this done.”

[IMGCAP(1)] Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee, similarly conceded last week that a cap-and-trade bill he introduced on Wednesday faces long odds. Still, he said, the effort must get under way.

“We must move as far as we can to put together the best ideas to save the planet,” he said. “We must have legislation ready for the next president.”

The comments by Boxer and Markey underscore the silver lining cap-and-trade supporters see in the current debate: Don’t despair if legislation stalls this year because a more favorable political climate lies just around the corner.

While President Bush remains opposed to mandatory controls for reducing greenhouse gases, all three leading presidential candidates support cap-and-trade, under which the government caps annual emissions and issues tradable permits that create a financial incentive to reduce pollution.

“The debate, starting Jan. 20 of next year, will no longer be between ‘yes’ and ‘no,’” Markey said. “It will be between different types of ‘yeses.’”

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) was one of the first Senators to introduce cap-and-trade legislation, although he is cool to the proposal being debated in the Senate this week — the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 3036), which he says does not go far enough to encourage nuclear power. Nuclear is touted by some policymakers because it does not produce greenhouse emissions.

Both Democratic presidential contenders, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), support the bill, and they are also co-sponsors of another cap-

and-trade measure with even more stringent emissions-reduction targets than the

Lieberman-Warner bill has. Lieberman-Warner aims to lower emissions to roughly 70 percent below current levels by 2050.

In contrast, McCain last month endorsed a slightly lower overall emissions goal — at least 66 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. That calculus will affect Boxer’s strategy moving forward in the next Congress, when she hopes to draft a bill with the new administration.

“Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want a stronger bill. McCain wants a weaker bill,” she noted last month. “Whoever’s in the White House, we’ll have to sit down and write a bill, hopefully together, that we’ll be able to move.”

The November elections could also ease passage if predictions of Democratic gains in the House and Senate prove accurate.

But Democrats are unlikely to try to freeze their Republican counterparts out of the process.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who along with House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) is drafting a cap-and-trade bill that they hope to bring to the House floor this year, said recently that the two of them “believe a bipartisan measure is essential for a program of this scope and complexity.”

However, Boucher acknowledged that the bill’s drafting has been held up by a lack of cooperation by some Republicans on the Energy Committee, who fear the economic impact of adopting a cap-and-trade scheme.

In the runup to the Lieberman-Warner debate, Senate Republicans similarly highlighted economic fears of the bill’s price tag, which by some estimates could cost upward of several trillion dollars by 2030 while further exacerbating rising energy costs.

To address those concerns, Boxer last month unveiled a substitute amendment that includes a new $800 billion tax relief fund to help consumers pay higher energy costs expected to result from the bill. The new bill also details trillions of dollars, expected to be raised from auctioning emission allocations, that will be steered to help workers and industry sectors adjust to a new carbon-constrained economy.

However, Republicans are eying the revenue raised by the cap-and-trade program to provide additional tax relief to consumers. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) last week signaled he will press amendments to return the funds to taxpayers.

“They should be used to lower other taxes for American families rather than increasing the size of government through new programs,” he said.

Other Republican amendments to the bill will seek to soften its economic impact through cost-containment mechanisms, promote new energy technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage new nuclear power generation.

Possible Democratic amendments could try to tighten the bill’s emission-reduction schedule, increase the auctioning of emission allocations and seek a lead role for the United States in international climate talks. Provisions to encourage greenhouse gas reductions in China, India and other developing nations will be a source of contention, too.

The success of such amendments this week will provide a baseline reading on what might be included in a bill taken up next year. While Boxer is on guard for “poison pill” amendments to weaken the bill, she said she welcomes an extended debate on a range of issues, adding that it will guide future legislative efforts.

“It’s really important for us to get a measure as to where people are,” she said.