CLIMATE:

Pelosi sees cap-and-trade floor debate this year

This story was updated at 4 p.m. EST.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that she wants to move major global warming legislation before December, a shift in tone from earlier comments in which the California Democrat said she was uncertain about action on a cap-and-trade bill during President Barack Obama's first year in office.

Speaking to Bay Area reporters, Pelosi insisted she plans to hold a floor vote on a cap-and-trade bill before diplomats gather Dec. 7-18 at a U.N. conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, to work toward a new international climate change agreement.

"I believe we have to because we see that as a source of revenue," Pelosi said, according to remarks published today in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Cap and trade is there for a reason. You cap and you trade so you can pay for some of these investments in energy independence and renewables."

The House speaker's remarks come less than three weeks after she angered environmentalists for saying she may not be ready to bring cap-and-trade legislation to the floor in 2009 (E&ENews PM, Jan. 5). "I'm not sure this year, because I don't know if we'll be ready," Pelosi told Greenwire. "We won't go before we're ready."

Pelosi aides did not elaborate further on her new tone about a climate debate later this year. But there are reasons for Pelosi's newfound optimism, including Obama's inaugural address pledge Tuesday to "roll back the specter of a warming planet."

The most likely vehicle for House floor action is a comprehensive bill that House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) promised last week to mark up before the Memorial Day recess (E&E Daily, Jan. 16).

Across Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic leaders have not said when they plan to push for a global warming floor debate. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has said she will release "a set of principles" for climate legislation in the coming weeks, but she has said little about her committee agenda on the issue.

"The writing is on the wall that legislation to combat global warming is coming soon," Boxer said last week, citing Waxman's schedule and an announcement from the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of businesses and environmental groups supportive of a cap-and-trade bill.

'The whites of their eyes'

Democratic leaders and Obama will have a heavy lift if they want to move a climate bill in 2009, given the current focus on the U.S. economy.

"Obviously, it's their timing to choose," Sen. Bob Corker said in an interview yesterday. "Whenever the timing is, we'll be very, very involved."

Corker yesterday circulated a Dear Colleague letter to other senators outlining his concerns with more complicated forms of cap-and-trade legislation, including the U.S. CAP approach and a bill debated on the Senate floor last year from Boxer, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.).

The Tennessee Republican said he would support a cap-and-trade measure or carbon tax under which all of the funds raised get returned directly to the public.

Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh offered a similar read on the prospects for a climate bill, adding that he supports using the revenue for reductions in payroll taxes. "I think in this area we need to be simple, straightforward, so the public can understand," he said.

But Bayh also said his approach may not be the one that can win a Senate majority. "Other members have other ideas, and that's why the thing grows and grows," Bayh said.

Asked about the timing for the climate debate, Bayh yesterday predicted that much will depend on Obama. "I think a lot of us will be interested in the agenda of the president," he said. "The president cares about this. But we don't know where it falls in terms of his timeline, so I think there will be a fair amount of deference given to that."

Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich said he would welcome action in the House, which has never had a full floor debate on a cap-and-trade plan while the Senate has had a half-dozen floor votes. "It might be good for the House if they want to do something," he said. "You get a chance to see the whites of their eyes -- to see what they have and then figure out how does that fit in with some of the stuff we're thinking about."

Voinovich also said he has shifted course and would support a cap-and-trade approach for climate change, though he ruled out any bill that follows the same logic as the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill.

"As vast as it is in terms of dollars raised, you have got to realize that with the economy we have today, the likelihood of anything that's going to raise rates 50 or 60 percent is not going to pass," Voinovich said. "It's just not going to pass because people are just against it."

Click here for Sen. Corker's Dear Colleague letter.