Climate Bill Faces Finance Committee, Long Haul Ahead

Potential climate change and energy legislation could wreak havoc on industry growth, witnesses said in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. The hearings follow the 11–1 passage of the Kerry-Boxer bill (The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act) through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)—chair of the Finance Committee, which is currently reviewing the bill—was the sole nay vote.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, last week ignored the Republican boycott of the climate change and energy bill—and the requirement that two Republicans should be present to vote—and passed the bill based on members who were present.

Sen. Baucus has publically expressed concerns about the legislation, including the bill’s mandate to cut 20% of national carbon emissions 2020. “We cannot afford the unmitigated impacts of climate change, but we also cannot afford the unmitigated effects of legislation,” he said. The senator wants the target to be 17% by 2020—the same goal as the House bill, which passed in June.

On Tuesday, Baucus told the finance panel—filled with members from the Midwest, Rust Belt, and coal-reliant regions—that they should “work to minimize any job losses.” Debate on the bill had spawned predictions about the effects of the legislation on the economy, some—like studies by the Environmental Protection Agency—estimating annual costs of between $2.7 billion and $4 billion a year, he said.

“During that debate, there were also dire predictions about job losses. In 1990, the EPA predicted that between 13,000 and 16,000 coal mining jobs would be lost as a result of the acid rain program. But a decade later, an EPA analysis determined that the cost of cutting emissions was far lower than they had expected. Reaching the sulfur dioxide goals set by the 1990 Amendments cost an estimated $1-to-2 billion a year. That was less than half their original estimates.”

The lawmaker’s opposition to the bill is symptomatic of the long haul ahead for the bill. On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that there many not be any more major committee action on the legislation this year. It is another strong indication that the comprehensive bill may not be voted on until next year, the newspaper speculated.

Congressional members like Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, are collaborating to widen support beyond the six Senate committees with jurisdiction on the legislation. Last week, those three lawmakers held a press conference (video) to announce that their efforts would address nuclear issues—including waste management and financing—and offshore drilling as well.

The senators—none of whom is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee chaired by Sen. Boxer—said they had met with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Carol Browner, the White House’s “climate czar.”

It was unclear whether the effort involved crafting new legislation, but Sen. Kerry said that the three lawmakers would be “fully respectful” of the committee process—and that Sen. Reid would determine when and how climate legislation would be introduced.

Sources: Senate Finance Committee, Senate Environment and Public Work Committee, The Wall Street Journal, C-SPAN, POWERnews

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