Washington Outlook

Article excerpt

Since the last issue of American Forests, climate change has continued to dominate the policy landscape for forest conservation issues. Congressional activity moved to the Senate, and the Obama Administration took steps to clarify U.S. commitments to address the overarching environmental issue of the day.

In early October, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) introduced their highly anticipated legislation, the "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act" (S. 1733), which closely parallels the House-passed ACES bill--the "American Clean Energy and Security Act" (H.R. 2454). But the Senate version also provides a number of changes, such as strengthening the overall target for greenhouse gas reductions, to make the legislation more acceptable to the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, which Senator Boxer chairs. It soon became clear that prospects for bipartisanship were unlikely, as Democrats sought to advance the bill and Republicans sought to boycott it by calling for further analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On November 5, Chairwoman Boxer took steps to move the bill through the EPW Committee despite the lack of Republican support. While this tactic raised concerns among some moderate Democrats, Senator Boxer succeeded in gaining Committee passage, effectively establishing a comprehensive vehicle for climate-change action in the Senate. Further, EPW approval of the Boxer-Kerry bill provided another major indicator that the Congress is serious about addressing climate change, complementing the House-passed ACES bill and strengthening the Obama Administration position for going to Copenhagen for United Nations' negotiations on climate change.

Committee approval of the bill also created political space for Senator Kerry and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to pursue bipartisan climate-change strategies, which they initially announced in an October 10 New York Times opinion editorial. Senator Joe Lieberman (l-CT) soon joined the two other Senators in leading the development of a consensus framework for addressing climate change. On December 10, the three Senators sent their initial framework to President Obama for his consideration in preparation for Copenhagen. They have agreed to include "significant amounts of real, monitored, and verified domestic and international offsets and other incentives ... for farmers, ranchers, and Forest owners ..."

In mid-November Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) met with these Senators, as well as the chairs of the other Senate committees expected to address climate change, in order to set a timeline for action. The other chairs include: Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Finance Committee; Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee; and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Energy and Natural Resources Committee. …