The Senate climate bill may be on life support, but its authors plan nonetheless to send their measure to U.S. EPA as soon as this afternoon for an economic study that needs to be completed if the legislation has any chance of reaching the floor before the start of the summer.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to have the EPA study "well in hand for the debate" on the sweeping bill, which would curb greenhouse gas emissions across the U.S. economy. Typically, EPA's work takes about six weeks to complete, which means Reid cannot expect to start a floor debate until at least after lawmakers return from their Memorial Day recess in early June.
For now, the Senate measure is on hold for a completely different reason. Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the bill's principal GOP co-sponsor, threatened Saturday to abandon the climate negotiations unless Reid gives up on plans this year to tackle legislation overhauling the nation's immigration policies.
Graham technically remains at the bargaining table on climate with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and the trio is expected to meet later today in the Capitol to discuss a path forward. The lawmakers held several telephone discussions over the weekend after Graham's announcement, with the Republican suggesting they begin the EPA modeling once they get their legislative text back from congressional lawyers who are actually writing the document.
"That'll make sure we don't lose real time if we can get back together," Lieberman said yesterday.
A Senate aide close to the process said the trio is expecting by early afternoon to receive the official bill from legislative counsel, complete with critical sections on allowance allocations for the electric utility industry. After that, the Senate staff will await a green light for sending the bill to EPA officials with whom they have been discussing specifications for the modeling runs.
"EPA is on standby to begin modeling once we receive the necessary information," an agency spokeswoman said today. "As we've said before, we are prepared to provide an analysis of the bill that will go before the full Senate. Once the modeling begins, it will take at least six weeks to complete."
Kerry and Lieberman scrapped plans to publicly release their bill today after Graham's complaints over immigration threatened to sideline the entire process. Senate aides say they expect to have a clearer picture on the schedule after today's meeting.
Simmering GOP feud
An EPA study is one of several government reviews expected if the Senate climate bill starts to advance through the legislative process. A Congressional Budget Office analysis would be done before the floor debate, and the Energy Information Administration also is likely to weigh in.
Senate authors also can expect a fight with Republicans over the thoroughness of EPA's work.
Last fall, Republicans boycotted a markup on climate legislation in the Environment and Public Works Committee because they hadn't gotten all the answers they wanted from EPA on what the Senate bill, as well as a House-passed counterpart, would cost.
Matt Dempsey, spokesman for EPW Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.), said today that complete EPA modeling would be one of several requests Republicans have ahead of any potential floor debate, especially as they wait to see the details of the legislation.
"It's all being done behind closed doors," he said. "And it's even more important to have an understanding of how much it's going to cost."
Dempsey added that Republicans would want EPA to conduct another modeling run of the climate bill after it goes through Reid's office, where considerable changes are likely to be made as he seeks support from 60 senators. "If there is a bill going over to EPA, we know it's certainly not what's going to be brought up on the floor," he said. "Republicans want to know what the bill that's going to the floor will cost."
Dan Weiss, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, called the EPA analysis "a very important step in the process."
"The sooner that gets under way, the sooner the bill can come to the floor," he said.
Weiss also said he wasn't worried about repeated requests from Inhofe for more EPA study as the legislation gets tweaked in Reid's office. "Once the model is set up, if it changes some of the numbers or years, it can be easily reflected in the model," he said.
Of the House-passed climate bill (H.R. 2454), EPA predicted household consumption would drop between 23 and 29 cents per day in 2020 and 76 cents to $1 per day in 2030. EPA said household consumption would fall $80 to $111 annually over the next four decades. The Senate proposal from Kerry, Graham and Lieberman is likely to call for similar emission restrictions -- 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 -- though with different mechanisms to control emissions from across the economy.