New Democratic Leaders Call for Tough Climate-Change Legislation

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The new Democratic leaders in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), have pledged to pursue tough legislation to deal with climate change. Already, several bills have been introduced in the Senate that would impose mandatory greenhouse gas emission limits.

Pelosi also announced the creation of a Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, to be chaired by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA). Although it will not have legislative authority and will expire at the end of the current Congress, the committee will likely put pressure on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose chairman, John Dingell (D-MI), was not pleased with the news, stating, "These kinds of committees are as useful and relevant as feathers on a fish." Dingell, who has previously opposed mandatory action to address climate change, had already announced climate change as a priority for the committee and his intention to invite former Vice President Al Gore and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to testify at a hearing that would feature "broadly divergent views as to what should be done on climate change."

Leaders of the House Science and Technology Committee and Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have also listed climate change among their priority topics.

In the Senate, where five bills or possible bills have already been introduced and more are being discussed, the Environment and Public Works Committee will have lead jurisdiction. Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has restructured the committee to include two new subcommittees on global warming. Boxer will chair the Public Sector Solutions to Global Warming, Oversight, Children's Health Protection and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee on which Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will be the Ranking Member. Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) will chair the Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection Subcommittee, with Senator John Warner (R-VA) serving as Ranking Member.

Although Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) recently ceded jurisdiction on climate change, he is drafting a climate change bill and his committee held a standing-room-only hearing on the topic on January 24.

The Foreign Relations Committee has also weighed in, with Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) reintroducing a "Sense of the Senate" resolution that calls for the United States to return to international climate negotiations and stipulates that all major emitters of greenhouse gases, including developing countries such as China and India, participate as well. A similar resolution passed the committee last year but stalled on the floor.

The five Senate proposals call for varying levels of emissions reductions and would all use a cap-and-trade system as the mechanism for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

On January 12, Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Lieberman (I-CT), introduced S. 280, the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007, with Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hilary Clinton (D-NY) joining as cosponsors. Their plan would cap emissions at 2004 levels in 2012 and decrease those limits to 1990 levels by 2020. It would eventually cut U.S. emissions to one-third the amount they were in 2000 by 2050. These limits are different from previous bills introduced by McCain and Lieberman, reflecting both the growth in emissions in recent years and the growing sentiment in favor of first slowing the growth of emissions before seeking steep reductions. The bill also contains additional credits for "offsets," actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions taken by those outside the cap-and-trade system, as well as incentives for the use of nuclear energy. The bill would invest money raised by the auction of allowances to deploy advanced technologies and practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to ameliorate the negative effects of any unavoidable global warming on low-income Americans and populations abroad. …