Reporters Roundtable:

E&E's Geman, Samuelsohn preview Senate action on climate and energy

On the heels of the House's narrow passage of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, the Senate begins its consideration of a climate measure this week. How will the House legislation change as it makes its way through the Senate? During today's OnPoint, E&E senior reporters Darren Samuelsohn and Ben Geman give reaction to Waxman-Markey's passage and preview action on climate and energy in the Senate. Geman and Samuelsohn also explain the impacts of the legislation on international climate negotiations.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today are E&E senior reporters Darren Samuelsohn and Ben Geman, nice to have you both on the show.

Darren Samuelsohn: Thank you.

Ben Geman: Thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: Darren, just before recess the House narrowly passed the Waxman-Markey climate bill, 219 to 212. For those who took some time off during recess, what's happened in the last week or so relating to the climate bill and what's the reaction been to the bill and its passage?

Darren Samuelsohn: Well, all the House members went back to their districts and probably heard quite a bit either for or against. Certainly, there were a lot of conservative columns, opinion editorials that we saw trashing the bill and questioning why the Democrats would go forward with this piece of legislation. And the Democrats who voted for it were trying to start to make the case that this was part of Obama's economic stimulus plans, this was part of a national security agenda, this is part of an environmental agenda. So you clearly saw the beginnings of the political debate on the House side and then for the Senate staffers who stayed back here in Washington for the week, they're gearing up for a pretty busy week ahead and then I think a lot of the House staffers probably went off to the beach.

Monica Trauzzi: Ben, some of the business supporters of cap and trade bailed on the bill towards the end and also after its passage, Conoco Phillips for example. What accounted for the shift?

Ben Geman: Yeah, that was kind of interesting. I mean you've got a circumstance in which you've got several major big companies and in many cases industries who have said that sort of conceptually we like cap and trade. We support mandatory curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. And, in fact, one of the main drivers or an organization that had a lot of input into this bill of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership is this group of large oil companies, ConocoPhillips, Shell, BP, as well as some big utilities and major environmental groups. And they came forward with a blueprint and Waxman and Markey sort of took a lot from what U.S. CAP did. But then you had some of the members of U.S. CAP, such as ConocoPhillips and the engine company Caterpillar, say, well, look, even if we support greenhouse gas curbs, we don't like this bill for a variety of reasons. And one thing that's sort of interesting with Conoco Phillips for example is that on the one hand they're part of U.S. CAP which supports it. On the other hand, they're part of some pretty powerful trade associations, the American Petroleum Institute, National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, who are lobbying very much against the legislation, so they're in an interesting spot. ConocoPhillips came out and said, look, we don't like the way that the allocation system and the bill in general treats the refining sector. They're the second biggest refinery in the U.S. Caterpillar, I think, had some different concerns. They don't like the way it treated non-road engines. I'm guessing they're referring to some of the greenhouse gas limits there. There's some trade provisions they didn't like. So yeah, I think the bigger picture here is it puts industry in a kind of interesting spot. I mean on some level this train is kind of going and even if they support cap and trade in general, they're going to sort of start picking away at the margins. So I think at the end of the day, if and when it gets closer to passage, it will be interesting to see whether there's kind of opposition until the bitter end or whether some industries and businesses see it as more advantageous to sort of hop on and say, OK, we support the final product.

Monica Trauzzi: And Darren, many in the enviro community have concerns with the bill as well, saying that it's too weak, it gives away too many allowances, and that it's not going to have the environmental impact that we need. How might this bill change as it moves through the Senate and what are EPW Chairwoman Boxer's plan for this bill?

Darren Samuelsohn: Well, I think the House bill was probably the greenest bill that they're going to get in respect to the emission targets, the 17 percent cut by 2020. I don't think that as the Senate bill starts to move forward you can expect those bills to get more aggressive on that front. The House, with Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman and Ed Markey in charge, clearly are probably writing the greenest bill possible that they're going to be able to get through. If you look at the Senate, to get the 60 votes that are necessary you're going to have to make some significant concessions. Even Congressman Rick Boucher from Virginia was talking about the Senate process and thinking that that bill in the Senate he thinks is going to have less aggressive emission targets going forward, which are what he wanted to do in the House, but knew that Henry Waxman wasn't going to let go of with that bill. As for what Senator Boxer plans to do, I mean she's starting right away with hearings this week for Obama cabinet officials, Steven Chu, Lisa Jackson, Tom Vilsack, and Ken Salazar are all going up to testify, which we saw that happen in the House as well as that process was getting started. And then going forward through the next couple of weeks we've got more hearings lined up on agriculture offsets, forestry, transportation, the international competition issues. That's just in Boxer's committee alone. The Finance Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee have hearings lined up. Also Harry Reid, who is kind of trying to steer this entire process, has got a meeting planned for this week with the committee chairmen, the six committee chairmen that are sort of in charge of this process. He'll be bringing them together in his office to try and cobble together the strategy going forward for the next couple of months. He's been doing these meetings probably once every couple of weeks starting earlier this year. I think they're going to get more aggressive as we get closer to the goals that he has set, which are Boxer will be marking up at the end of July, either that last week before August or that first week of August before the recess begins. And then we're looking at a September 18 deadline that Harry Reid has set and that's the deadline for all the committees to sort of get their bills to the Senate desk. At that point, maybe he'll rewrite the bills or cobble them together into one big package.

Monica Trauzzi: So this sounds like a real sprint through July to the August recess. Ben, on the Senate side we also have that energy bill that made its way through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June. How are you expecting that to change as other committees with jurisdiction start to take it up?

Ben Geman: Well, certainly the Finance Committee will be putting together most likely some type of energy tax package. And the way it's worked in years past, when they've done big energy bills is the authorizing committee, the Energy Committee, does their portion and then sort of later in the process the Finance Committee comes in with some tax provisions. I think something that Darren was touching upon about whether or not the bill can get any greener is a question that's interesting for both the kind of climate specific provisions as well as the energy provisions. For example, there's been a lot of concern within the environmental community that the renewable electricity standard, both that came out of the House and that came out at the Senate Energy Committee, is simply too modest and, in fact, wouldn't spur additional renewable generation beyond what you're already going to get from state programs, from the recent stimulus and so forth. And this creates kind of a tricky situation for the environmental community I think because on the climate and energy bill overall the kind of line from many of the major environmental organizations has been we support this bill that came out of the House, but it needs to get stronger. There's several things we want to change. But, as Darren points out, if anything, it seems more likely to go in the other direction as they try and climb up to 60 votes in the Senate. So already you've had a couple of the groups on kind of the left side of the environmental movement, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace saying we don't like this bill. If it gets watered down in the Senate and I think it's hard to say it will happen, but if it gets watered down in the Senate what is Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council and Environment America, how do they then treat the legislation at that point and what type of signals do they send? So that will be something to watch.

Monica Trauzzi: So, with Al Franken the Democrats now have a filibuster proof majority, but does that apply to climate as well? I mean how far do you see this going in the Senate?

Darren Samuelsohn: It definitely doesn't lead to a filibuster proof majority on this climate bill. Clearly, the same 14, 15 Democratic senators that were in play last year when the Lieberman-Warner bill was on the floor are the same 14, 15 senators and they've really been kind of hands off for the last year I think. It's been staff level, but even those meetings haven't been happening very frequently. And they laid out their issues at the end of that Senate debate, they were about coal, they were about international competition, they were about agriculture. All of the issues that they put forward last year still remain and the House bill did try and address those pieces, but in order to win Ben Nelson's vote, in order to win Kent Conrad's vote, you know, the Michigan Democrats, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, these issues still need to be resolved to a way that's going to satisfy them that's maybe going to be probably different than what moved in the House. So you're going to maybe watch for incremental coalitions to be forming here in the next couple of weeks and months. We're going to probably look for some sort of leadership to emerge out of that gang of 15 or 16. It's hard to figure out what the number is right now. And on the Republican side, I mean that's just the Democrats alone, if we look at the Republicans, John McCain is probably the most important one to be on the lookout for. What's he going to do? This was his big issue in 2001, '03, '05, probably all building up to his presidential campaign in 2008. He's been pretty critical of the climate bill to date and it's going to be interesting to watch and see if we're looking at the John McCain of the presidential campaign of 2008 or is it the John McCain who was a senator in 2001 and '03 and '05 who was pushing the Senate floor votes during the Bush administration. And if he can go forward with this bill, if he does support it, how many Republicans does he bring with him? Mel Martinez, Richard Lugar, some of those moderate Senate Republicans who have been sort of in McCain's coalition, Lindsey Graham is another one to be on the lookout for, do they come with him? And is that four or five votes that then the Democrats can then forget about or not necessarily try and pick off from their own moderate ranks?

Ben Geman: I was going to say, Brownback, Sam Brownback is another one I think to look at because he supported a renewable electricity standard in the Senate Energy Committee. But one thing I was going to add on to what Darren was saying is that I'll be really curious to see what happens if they realize that they cannot get to 60 votes on a climate bill, at least that they're willing to go forward with, that they would see as aggressive enough. And, if they don't, you've got all these other energy provisions slated to be attached to it. Both on the Senate side of course, but also on the House side there's just a ton of energy efficiency provisions, many things that are somewhat noncontroversial, some of them quite controversial, others much less so. And I think it becomes a question of if the climb to 60 votes becomes too steep, especially given some of the difficulties of the calendar in the Senate, do they then start to split off pieces that they feel are viable and do they sort of kind of abandon this idea of a big merged climate and energy bill and, again, start to do energy pieces that they think they can move forward with. So I think that's a bit of a question right now.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here, what are the international impacts? Can the U.S. delegation go to Copenhagen with this House bill in hand and please the international community? Are there provisions that absolutely need to be changed in order to please the international community?

Darren Samuelsohn: There's a little bit of a chicken and the egg situation going on here. I mean a House passed bill presumably would be enough for Obama to go to Copenhagen and probably sign on the dotted line knowing sort of what that biggest picture target numbers are. The 17 percent by 2020, the 83 percent by 2050, I mean those are the key biggest picture things that are necessary for Copenhagen. I think a lot of the details are going to be worked out in the years going forward in 2010, 2011 at these international climate meetings. And you've heard from the UN officials that they're seeing the Copenhagen agreement at this point to be a very sort of broad blueprint and then they'll fill in the details later. This happened sort of with Kyoto as well, that they then came back after 1997 and dealt with a lot of those details. So, obviously, for the Obama administration if they could have a law in hand to go to Copenhagen that would probably be huge. It could also hinder their negotiation tactics as well. I've thought often that maybe a House passed bill, maybe a Senate passed bill, in conference negotiations, but not necessarily a signed law might be Obama's best place to be because then he can kind of have some wiggle room in terms of what that final law is going to look like and he can negotiate with the Chinese sort of having that hammer of the trade tariffs as one thing that he could use and say, well, if you sign on the dotted line here I can go back and pull this out of the law. So there's definitely wiggle room they want to have going forward to Copenhagen.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, interesting stuff, exciting to watch. We'll end it right there. Thank you both for coming on the show.

Darren Samuelsohn: Thank you.

Ben Geman: Thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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