Senate Democrats will waste little time this week venturing into the climate debate with hearings and high-level talks aimed at passing a comprehensive bill that can be matched up with legislation the House passed last month.
Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) gets things started today with four senior Obama administration officials -- Energy Secretary Steven Chu, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar -- all at the same witness table. After the hearing, the Cabinet-level members are scheduled to attend the Democratic senators' weekly climate meetings.
Two other powerful Senate committees weigh in tomorrow with hearings on two of the most tricky issues associated with domestic climate legislation. Sen. Max Baucus' (D-Mont.) Finance Committee looks at the interplay between climate legislation and international trade, an area that President Obama himself weighed in on last month in warning against "sending any protectionist signals" with a global warming bill. And Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) Foreign Relations Committee will hear about the European Union's five-year effort to control climate-changing emissions while dealing with competition from developing countries.
These are the first in a long line of Senate climate hearings as the Democratic-led chamber tries to cobble together a bill in time for Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) Sept. 18 deadline for all committees to clear their pieces of the legislation. Other EPW Committee hearings scheduled for this month include July 14 sessions on the role of agriculture and forestry and one on transportation issues.
Boxer also plans a July 16 hearing on how U.S. businesses can stay competitive globally while still facing climate restrictions.
In another sign of the Democrats' intention to act fast, Reid tomorrow is expected to huddle with the chairmen of the six key Senate committees for what are now becoming regular strategy sessions on the climate issue: Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Boxer, Baucus and Kerry.
Details on exactly what Senate Democrats plan to write into their climate bill remain unclear, though Boxer said she plans to build in large part off H.R. 2454, the bill the House passed last month, 219-212. A Democratic EPW Committee aide explained yesterday that Boxer wants to have legislative text ready for public release within the next two weeks, with the weeks of July 27-31 and Aug. 3-7 set aside for marking up the bill.
As for Reid, he wants to bring a comprehensive climate bill to the floor this fall that merges Boxer's work with that of the other committees, including an energy-focused proposal that Bingaman's committee approved in June.
According to an E&E analysis of the Senate, 60 votes is within reach for a cap-and-trade climate bill, but many deals must be made to get the measure across the goal line (Greenwire, June 29). Prominent fence sitters include Alaska's Mark Begich (D) and Lisa Murkowski (R), Ohio's Sherrod Brown (D) and Michigan Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. All are pressing for provisions that accommodate their home state interests -- and Republicans expect Reid to wheel and deal if he wants a bill.
"They're going to make any number of concessions to get to the number 60 by the time this reaches the floor," said Michael Catanzaro, the deputy staff director for Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
In a recent interview, Boxer predicted success in this year's climate debate thanks to the House-passed bill, as well as Obama's support and the experience she gleaned from last year's unsuccessful push to pass similar legislation on the Senate floor.
"We did a dry run," Boxer said. "We did it with a different president and opposition from the executive. And we did it before the House. It was a very important thing that we did it because it showed everyone just how difficult it is, where the problems lay.
"So I'm feeling much better about it this time because I went through that experience," Boxer added. "And because the House passed the bill and because the president is so committed."
Boxer insisted that she would try to find a Republican cosponsor for her legislation, though she is unlikely to win over any of the seven GOP members who sit on the Environment and Public Works Committee. Instead, most expect Boxer to focus on Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of which are longtime cosponsors on past climate bills.
"The Mainers are probably your best bet," said Chelsea Maxwell, who served as a climate adviser to former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a lead co-sponsor of last year's Senate bill. "Anyone else, you'll have to do a big give to get them."
Environmental groups are urging Reid and Boxer to make the Senate climate bill even more aggressive than the House measure. Yet that won't be an easy lift given the hurdles to gaining 60 votes. In fact, it is possible the Senate legislation could end up even weaker.
"I have a strong sense as this measure moves to the Senate and takes the next important step in the legislative process, changes will in fact transpire and I think the opportunity to obtain that improvement will exist there," Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, told E&E last month, referring to his preference for reducing the House bill's 2020 emission limits from 17 percent down to 14 percent.
Senate Republicans are also gearing up for a big fight on the climate bill, pushing back much the same way their House counterparts did against the idea of passing sweeping new environmental regulations during an economic recession.
"It still needs a lot of work," Sen. Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) said before last week's recess. "I think we need to slow it down."
EPW Committee schedule: The hearing is today at 10 a.m. in 406 Dirksen.
EPW panel witnesses: Energy Secretary Steven Chu; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson; Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R): Rich Wells, vice president for energy, Dow Chemical Co.; David Hawkins, director, Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center; and John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock, Pa.
Finance Committee schedule: The hearing is tomorrow at 10 a.m. in 215 Dirksen.
Finance panel witnesses: Loren Yager, director of international affairs and trade, Government Accountability Office; Eileen Claussen, president, Pew Center on Global Climate Change; and Gary Horlick, private attorney.
Foreign Relations Committee schedule: The hearing is tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. in 419 Dirksen.
Foreign Relations panel witnesses: Felix Matthes, research coordinator for energy & climate policy, Institute for Applied Ecology, Berlin, Germany; Steven Fries, chief economist, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, The Hague, Netherlands; and Wolfgang Weber, head of energy and climate policy, BASF Group, Ludwigshafen, Germany.