July 22, 2010 / 11:07 PM / 10 years ago

SCENARIOS-Future is cloudy for US climate change bill

WASHINGTON, July 22 (Reuters) - Chances look slim to nil that President Barrack Obama will get Congress to pass a broad bill to combat climate change any time soon.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday he plans to bring up a scaled-back energy bill next week but would postpone until September at the earliest broad climate change legislation. [ID:nN22265299]

The stripped down bill to be considered next week will not contain caps on carbon emissions or mandates for renewable energy like wind and solar — key elements in broader legislation.

Despite many doubters, Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, and Joseph Lieberman, an independent, said they believe they can get the necessary support for broad climate-change legislation in September or later.

Obama wants legislation aimed at cutting emissions of so-called greenhouse gases blamed for climate change by about 17 percent by 2020, which a bill focusing mostly on revamping offshore oil drilling rules would not accomplish.

If Republicans make big gains in November congressional elections — they are trying to take back control of Congress from the Democrats — it could be nearly impossible to get broad climate change legislation through Congress.

Here are some scenarios for passing a climate change bill.


This option is unlikely. Some Democrats have said they hope they will be able to add a wide range of climate provisions to Reid’s scaled-back energy bill after it is brought up next week. Or it could be done during a potential “lame duck” session of Congress after the November elections.

There are only three work weeks in September for lawmakers. After that, they may be preoccupied with the looming elections.

Kerry said on Thursday that energy legislation in the past has taken more than three weeks to debate and pass — and complicated climate legislation could take longer.

Some Democrats have said they hope senators after the elections will feel more comfortable voting for climate measures that could raise energy bills in the short term, but spur jobs in alternative energy and reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels over time.

Reid said on Thursday he did not have a single Republican vote right now for broad climate change legislation.

Democrats, who are also divided on the issue, may need as many as three Republican votes to advance legislation in the Senate since they control 59 seats, one short of the 60 needed to advance the bill.

The newest Democrat, Carte Goodwin of West Virginia, who has temporarily taken the seat vacated by the late Robert Byrd, has said he is against all of the “cap and trade” climate plans currently before the Senate.

Under cap and trade, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions would be capped at declining levels over a period of decades. Companies would need permits for every ton of pollution they send into the atmosphere and those permits could be traded on a regulated market.

It is also not clear yet whether Democratic leaders in the Senate would consider calling a “lame duck” session of Congress after the elections to consider climate change legislation.


This option — taking up climate change provisions sometime after the scaled-back energy bill is passed — is also unlikely this year and next.

Kerry and Lieberman still want to advance their proposal, which was unveiled earlier this month, that would put carbon caps on utilities first.

But passing a climate bill that would launch a cap and trade carbon market has eluded Congress for years. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a comprehensive climate change bill last year that includes cap and trade provisions.

But after the financial industry problems that rocked Wall Street in recent years many lawmakers oppose forming a new market that could be worth trillions of dollars globally.

Kerry and Lieberman may have a hard time raising support for a stand-alone climate bill this year. It could be even harder next year if Democrats lose seats in the elections.

Obama has pushed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take unilateral action if Congress fails to pass a bill. If the EPA expands its regulation of carbon as Obama has promised, lawmakers may feel more urgency to act on climate.


This is the most likely option.

Clean-energy provisions such as new energy-efficiency programs, incentives to modernize the nation’s power grid, and a bank for renewable energy development could all be added to Reid’s scaled-back energy legislation.

A long shot would be adding a renewable power standard, requiring utilities to generate a certain amount of electricity from sources like solar and wind power. That’s because lawmakers from the South and Midwest say their states lack the sun and wind resources other regions boast.

Editing by Will Dunham

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