Hope for Climate Legislation in the Senate

February 23, 2010

The US Senate is expected to reengage with proposed climate legislation this week in an attempt to create domestic solutions that reduce our carbon emissions. While the hope for progress is great, the growing feeling is that the final bill that comes out of the Senate will be less ambitious than the one the House passed last year. According to Reuters news service, Senators John Kerry, Joesph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham are weighing options that will allow the Senate to move forward with legislation. But the issue that is facing this group is only partially related to policy; politics will play a big role in if, when and how a bill may be passed in the Senate. Options in Broad Strokes There are many options for potential Senate climate legislation. This may include a comprehensive cap on carbon emissions that covers nearly the entire economy, or a bill that only covers part of the economy such as power plants and/or other areas of the economy. The latter seems more viable in the short run to some, in order to build a broad base of support. One very distinct piecemeal approach may be to cap the electricity sector of energy, representing about 40% of US emissions. This could make a significant dent in carbon emissions now without necessarily affecting other carbon intensive industries like cement and steel, and may also be administratively easier to monitor. However– critics view the piecemeal approach as inherently lacking, in that climate change should involve a comprehensive approach to emissions cuts. The Politics With elections coming up in November, it would be foolish to think that there will not be a fair amount of political jockeying between now and then. So trying to pass a bill in the middle of campaign season like this may be difficult, but not impossible. If the Senate is to pass a climate change bill, it will likely need to happen in the next couple months, before members of Congress focus on their districts and states and other issues that Congress is trying to clear this session.