Issue Date: June 9, 2008
Senate Stumbles On Climate Change
As this week began, odds appeared good that the full Senate would finally debate climate change via S. 3036, the bill authored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) and amended by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). By late in the week, however—after Republican and Democratic news conferences, demonstrations on Capitol Hill, and promises from many legislators—the chance of such talks seemed to be slipping away.
The bill being considered is the first climate-change bill to reach the Senate floor. It calls for a 2% annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels. The result would be 4% lower greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, growing to a 66% reduction in total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The reductions would be achieved through an ever-tightening cap on greenhouse gas emissions from a mix of power plants, chemical companies, oil refineries, and other facilities. The bill would create a complex system to trade carbon dioxide emissions and would transform U.S. energy use and production, which are highly dependent on fossil fuels.
Most Republicans objected primarily to the bill's projected cost and economic impact on industry and consumers. While studies of the bill by the Energy Information Administration and EPA predicted measurable economic consequences, the worst projected impacts were relatively small—varying from a 2.4 to 6.9% reduction in gross domestic product by 2050.
However, economic calculations of the bill's impacts were predicated on CO2 reduction technologies—carbon capture and sequestration methods for coal-fired power plants, for instance—that today do not exist on scales needed to make a difference in climate processes. Consequently, cost estimates varied greatly.
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) termed the bill "a stealth and giant tax on virtually every aspect of industrial and consumer life." President George W. Bush also objected to the bill and promised a veto should it clear Congress.
Bill opponents, led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and McConnell, promised robust debate on the bill with hundreds of amendments. However, McConnell and Inhofe also placed procedural delays in the bill's path, blocking debate.
On June 4, McConnell with broad Republican backing went further and stepped outside climate-change issues to block the bill. Voicing anger over the Democratic majority's failure to approve a handful of federal judges, McConnell promised to use "various tools" to gain the Democrats' attention for the judges. He then ordered a word-for-word reading of the 492-page bill in the Senate chamber, further stalling Senate floor debate for nine hours while clerks read through the bill.
Late that night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shot back and in effect ended floor action by announcing he would call for a final vote on the bill by week's end—with or without amendments or debate. Since bill supporters lack the 60 votes needed under Senate rules to even bring the bill up for a vote, S. 3036 is in effect dead.
While there is little surprise that the Senate could not pass the bill, Boxer and other supporters had hoped the floor debate would help shape legislation language for the next president and Congress. Last week's "debate" signals how difficult those discussions are likely to be.
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