Coming Up: Senate Battle on Climate Change Legislation

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Publication date: 
14 May 2003

Last week, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) brought S. 14, the National Energy Policy Act of 2003, to the Senate floor. All indications point to the legislation being there until September. One of the major reasons for this protracted consideration will be what the federal government should do about the control of greenhouse gases.

Domenici was able to get his committee to report S. 14 to the Senate floor by a deliberate strategy of avoiding issues that would surely sidetrack his legislation. In introducing his bill on the floor, Domenici explained, "in Committee, we also deferred to the floor a debate over climate change. I know the debate is coming, and I saw no reason in consuming the time of the Committee on a matter sure to be reconsidered on the floor."

Domenici's prediction is a certainty. At a hearing last week, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) made clear his intentions to offer an amendment to the National Energy Policy Act on climate change. McCain is one of five Senate cosponsors of S. 139, the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003. Introduced by Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) on January 9, this bill would establish a market-driven system of emission gas allowances that could be traded by major producers of greenhouses gases. Similar legislation to reduce acid rain emissions was passed in 1990. The ultimate goal of S. 139 is to reduce greenhouse gases to the 1990 level by the year 2016. Lieberman described this bill as the "first ever comprehensive legislation to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States." In his remarks on the Senate floor, McCain said, "While we cannot say with 100% confidence what will happen in the future, we do know the emission of greenhouse gases is not healthy for the environment. As many of the top scientists throughout the world have stated, the sooner we start to reduce these emissions, the better off we will be in the future." At last week' hearing, McCain described the cautiousness of scientists, saying it provided opponents of climate change legislation a rationale for delay. That, he said, makes it all the more difficult to secure votes. McCain described the opposition to such legislation as "significant," later saying "sometimes it is a bit lonely." Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who described himself as a "soul mate" to McCain on this issue, said "we've got quite an educational process to do."

The Lieberman bill is not the only climate change proposal on the table, as there are at least three other bills that would control greenhouse gases. Indicative of how difficult the energy policy legislation will be to move through the Senate is the general consensus that Domenici's original target date for the completion of this bill of Memorial Day is now seen as extending into September.

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