US Senate leaders concede defeat on climate legislation

22 July 2010 21:46  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US Senate Democrat leaders conceded on Thursday that they do not have votes to pass even limited climate change legislation in the near future - probably not this year - and will focus instead on a bill to improve regulations on oil spills.

“We’ve always known from day one that in order to pass comprehensive energy/climate legislation, you’ve got to reach 60 votes, and to reach those 60 votes, you’ve got to have some Republicans,” said Senator John Kerry (Democrat-Massachusetts) at a press conference following a meeting with Senate Democrats.

Democrats hold 57 seats in the 100-seat US Senate and can generally count on two independents - Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont - to total 59 votes.

But major and controversial bills require 60 Senate votes for passage or otherwise face an endless bill-killing debate known as a filibuster.

Without the support of at least one Republican senator, the climate bill that Kerry and Lieberman have sponsored has no chance of approval.

The original version of the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill would have imposed a cap-and-trade emissions mandate on US industry and transportation sectors, freezing greenhouse gases at their current volumes and forcing annual reductions to reach a level 83% below the nation’s 2005 emissions by 2050.

A watered-down Kerry-Lieberman climate measure would limit the emissions cap to electric utilities first before expanding over a period of years to include the broad manufacturing and transportation sectors.

Both approaches have been opposed by Republicans in the Senate and by a broad coalition of US chemical makers, other manufacturers and agricultural and forestry interests on grounds that either would trigger crippling increases in US energy costs.

Several Democrat senators - especially those representing states heavily dependent on coal-fired electric power - also have expressed reservations about climate legislation that would force utilities to abandon emissions-rich coal as a fuel.

Some Republican supporters of climate policy and industry officials have long speculated that Senate Democrats did not have the votes needed to pass a climate bill this year, but Thursday's comments by Kerry was the first clear admission by Democrat advocates of climate legislation that it could not be done.

Following the meeting with Kerry and other Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat-Nevada) on Thursday declined to answer a reporter who asked how many Senate Democrats were willing to support a cap-and-trade climate bill.

Kerry said Reid next week would introduce an “admittedly narrow, limited bill” that would include measures to stiffen penalties and liability for offshore oil spills and take other steps to increase federal controls on energy production.

Apparently, the Reid bill would not include any emissions caps or other carbon-price provisions.

Neither would it include measures to mandate a specific level of renewable electricity generation, a measure seen by US industry as a back-door emissions cap approach.

Kerry also indicated that any effort to introduce or move other climate legislation was not likely before Congress begins its month-long recess on 9 August.

When Congress returns on 10 September, there would be only a few legislative days left before the 2 November national elections in which one-third of senators and all members of the House are fighting to retain their seats.

Little action on any significant or controversial legislation was expected in either the Senate or House once re-election campaigning begins in earnest in September.

It was widely expected that Republicans might make significant gains in both the House and Senate. 

Even if Republicans do not win sufficient seats to regain majority control in either chamber, the shift in party balance in the 112th Congress for 2011-2012 is expected to make substantive climate change legislation less likely.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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