US cap-and-trade dead for this year and likely for 2011-2012

09 June 2010 00:03  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US Senate passage of a cap-and-trade climate bill is not possible this year, a top refining and petrochemicals official said on Tuesday, and passage of an emissions bill is not likely next year or later without an international deal.

Gregory Scott, executive vice president and general counsel at the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), said he thinks that the Senate has neither the time nor the will to pass an emissions reducing climate bill before Congress begins its month-long August recess.

After the August recess, congressional activity largely will be confined to spending bills and other less controversial legislation as the US heads in to the final two months leading up to the 9 November national elections.

In the coming national vote, all 435 representatives in the US House are up for re-election, and one-third of the Senate’s 100 members also are facing contests for another term.  Traditionally, members of Congress avoid controversial issues in the two months prior to a national election.

The House passed a major climate bill late last year, HR-2454, but the Senate so far has seen little interest in enacting a similar bill.  The House measure, also known as the Waxman-Markey bill for its sponsors, squeaked by with a 219-212 party-line vote.  The bill needed 218 votes for passage.

A new Senate bill to impose a cap on US industrial emissions of greenhouse gases was introduced last month but has seen little action since and is not likely to get to a floor vote before the August recess.

“I don’t see 60 votes in the Senate for this legislation this summer,” Scott said.  “It’s going to be extremely difficult for the Senate to get 60 votes for the Kerry-Lieberman bill,” he added, referring to the new Senate climate legislation co-sponsored by Senators John Kerry (Democrat-Massachusetts) and Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut).

In the US Senate, controversial or major legislation typically requires the votes of 60 senators for approval or falls prey to an endless bill-killing debate process known as a filibuster.

“And if they don’t get it done this summer before August, it is not going to get to the president’s desk at all this year,” Scott said, elaborating on remarks he made to an energy conference in Washington.

Even if the Senate did pass a climate bill in the next month or so, that legislation still would have to be reconciled with the House-approved measure in a House-Senate conference committee - a process that itself could take weeks or even months.

In addition, said Scott, “I doubt that Waxman-Markey would pass in the House today.  The political dynamics have changed, and that bill would not pass the House today.”

If, as seems increasingly likely, action by the US Congress on climate legislation is put off to 2011 and the next Congress, Scott thinks a cap-and-trade bill emissions reductions bill has no hope of passage unless it is part of a comprehensive international agreement binding all nations to a carbon cuts plan.

Citing expected Republican gains in upcoming House and Senate seat elections, Scott said the 112th US Congress that convenes in January next year will be more centrist and even less likely than the current Congress to take unilateral action to limit carbon emissions.

“If Congress were to approve some sort of cap-and-trade climate bill next year, it will have to be in the context of an international agreement, not a unilateral action,” he said.

But a global treaty establishing enforceable limits and reductions on all nations’ carbon emissions appears extremely unlikely.  China and India have said they will not impede their fast-developing economies with carbon cuts.

In large part because of opposition by China and India, the UN climate change conference held in Copenhagen in December last year ended without major resolution or a new treaty to succeed the expiring 1997 Kyoto climate protocols (which were never approved by the US Senate).

With a global agreement on emissions reductions unlikely and a unilateral US carbon-cutting bill also seemingly out of the picture, Scott was asked if the death knell had been sounded for any US cap-and-trade legislation.

“I don’t know,” he said, noting that foretelling the future is a risky business at best.

($1 = €0.84)

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By: Joe Kamalick
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