Climate Bill Lacks Momentum Even After BP Spill, Democrats Say
Many Democrats don’t want to vote in this election year on whether to cap the greenhouse-gas emissions linked to climate change, saying they prefer to work in the coming months on legislation directly responding to the spill.
“The climate bill isn’t going to stop the oil leak,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. “The first thing you have to do is stop the oil leak.”
Obama, in a speech to the nation last night, praised a climate plan passed by the House last year and said the U.S. “can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy.” Still, he didn’t place direct pressure on the Senate to follow the House’s lead and didn’t repeat his call earlier this month to put “a price on carbon pollution.”
“I’m happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party, as long as they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels,” Obama said.
The House voted last June to create the first national limits on greenhouse-gas emissions. The measure would regulate carbon dioxide from power plants, refineries and factories through a cap-and-trade program in which companies buy and sell a declining number of pollution rights.
Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, said Obama didn’t not specifically back a climate bill in his speech.
“I didn’t find it overly political,” she told reporters today. “He did not endorse cap-and-trade.”
Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who introduced legislation similar to the House bill in his chamber last month, said yesterday that it doesn’t have the votes yet needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
“We don’t have the 60 votes yet, I know that,” Kerry told reporters. “But we’re close enough to be able to fight for it.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said today that lawmakers who voted for last year’s cap-and-trade bill may not accept Senate legislation that doesn’t impose limits on the greenhouse gases linked to climate change.
Among House Democrats, “the fuse is a short one in terms of protecting our environment,” Pelosi told reporters. She also said keeping heat-trapping gases out of the atmosphere is a “moral responsibility.”
Some Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns that voting on the climate plan could create a political backlash in the November elections.
“There’s not a great call for it in the Democratic caucus,” said West Virginia Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, who has argued against taking up the bill. Feinstein said last week she believed climate legislation could be passed next year.
As an alternative, Democrats are working on an energy plan that would increase safety regulations on offshore drilling, raise or eliminate the cap on oil companies’ economic liability, promote energy efficiency and mandate more use of renewable electricity.
“The front wheel of anything we do on energy is going to be addressing regulations and safety with respect to offshore drilling, particularly deep-well drilling,” said Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has asked committee leaders to draft energy provisions to bring to the floor next month. Democrats plan to meet tomorrow to discuss what should be included.
Reid would be unlikely to include a climate provision in the bill unless it had significant Republican support, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in an e-mail.
Republican backing would be needed to offset likely opposition from Democrats representing some rural and industrial states, who fear capping greenhouse gases would raise electric bills for consumers and business.
To counter those concerns, Kerry and Lieberman yesterday released a study by the Environmental Protection Agency that said the plan would cost the average U.S. household less than dollar a day.
Still, Senate Republicans and some Democrats from rural states say they see little connection between the oil spill and legislation to cap greenhouse-gas emissions.
“It’s unrelated,” said Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska. “Obviously the emissions that we are talking about are primarily coal-fired electricity generation from Nebraska. That doesn’t have much to do with the Gulf.”
No Republicans have supported Kerry-Lieberman legislation thus far. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who worked on a climate bill with the pair for months, dropped his support in late April.
Republicans said yesterday that Obama shouldn’t use the Gulf spill to rally support for cap-and-trade legislation.
The cost of carbon dioxide allowances is effectively a “new national energy tax” that will do nothing to “stop this spill and clean it up,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The “justifiable public outrage” over the oil spill shouldn’t be employed “as a tool for pushing a divisive new climate change policy,” he said.
Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy and Commerce committee, said yesterday he plans to advocate for an energy-only bill that passed his panel last June. The measure would require utilities to get as much as 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021.
The Senate “should definitely do an energy bill” that doesn’t include a carbon cap-and-trade program, said Senator Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat. Kerry and Lieberman could be given a chance to add their climate plan as an amendment, he said.
The White House and other supporters of a climate bill want a comprehensive plan to be the main legislative vehicle, arguing that public concern over the oil spill provides momentum. “Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny,” Obama said in his speech last night.
Environmental groups have called on the Senate to pass a climate bill this year. Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, said on a conference call today that though it would be a “hard political lift in the Senate” to pass such a measure, “we do have a political moment right now.”
Pollster Joel Benenson said surveys he conducted for the League of Conservation Voters showed that 63 percent of likely voters contacted in May and June said they would support legislation to “limit pollution” by “charging energy companies for carbon pollution in electricity or fuels like gas.”
“In the aftermath of the spill, people firmly believe Congress needs to do more than just make BP pay,” wrote Benenson, who conducted polling for Obama’s presidential campaign.
The poll numbers are unlikely to convince enough Democrats to back a comprehensive climate measure. “I don’t think there are 60 votes for a climate-change bill,” Dorgan said today on the Senate floor.
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