As the Senate debates climate change legislation for the first time since 2003, a top environmental aide to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) says lawmakers may finally be ready to act. But will a rival climate amendment from Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) undermine support for the proposal from Lieberman and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)? Will President Bush veto the energy bill if it includes climate language? And how would the U.S. economy be affected by the different climate policies? Joseph Goffman, Lieberman's environmental counsel, weighs in on the coming floor debate.
Darren Samuelsohn: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Darren Samuelsohn. Joining us today at the E&ETV studios here in Washington, D.C., is Joseph Goffman, environmental council for Senator Joe Lieberman, Democrat from Connecticut. Mr. Goffman thanks for being here.
Joseph Goffman: Thanks for having me.
Darren Samuelsohn: The Senate turns its attention to climate change/global warming issues for the first time since October of 2003, today or tomorrow, it's going to happen this week and your bill sounds like it's the first one up. It's a new bill. It's different than the one that was debated in October 2003. Can you tell us what's different between '03 and now and why make the changes?
Joseph Goffman: Well let me start by telling you what's the same and that is the fundamental approach to controlling greenhouse gas emissions, is an emissions budget and trading or cap-and-trade approach. That's the same as what was voted on October of 2003. Senators Lieberman and McCain have added a technology title and that's what's new. The technology title is a mechanism funded not through appropriations and taxpayer money, but as an adjunct to the marketable permit system that provides a wide range of subsidies to a wide range of climate friendly innovations and technologies.
Darren Samuelsohn: Climate friendly being clean coal power plants and nuclear power plants right?
Joseph Goffman: As well as solar and biofuels and any other technologies that meet the criteria set forth in the bill, which cover not only environmental performance, but economic competitiveness and ultimate market viability.
Darren Samuelsohn: And making these changes, they've been well documented in the media in terms of trying to cover this on a day to day basis. Why were these additional things added? Why was this innovation title added?
Joseph Goffman: Well, I think both senators firmly believe that the market-based system for controlling greenhouse pollution will work to drive costs down and stimulate innovation, but since the emissions reduction targets are on a schedule they wanted to make sure that the technology transition was smooth and timely and the way to do that is to address some of the potential barriers that particularly exist for more innovative technologies. The way to do that is to have targeted subsidies of the sort that are now in the new title to the bill.
Darren Samuelsohn: OK. I guess I want to get at the controversies are behind this, but really quickly let's lay out some of the other differences between your proposal and there's another proposal out there that we're going to be hearing about from Senators Bingaman and Domenici. We're waiting to hear if Senator Domenici, I'm sorry, is a cosponsor of this bill. But the main difference, I guess, is yours sets an actual greenhouse gas cap as opposed to theirs which links greenhouse gas emissions to economic growth. Explain what's the difference there and why go the route that you've gone?
Joseph Goffman: Well we've gone the route that we have because our bill creates a more meaningful response to the actual emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In addition, our bill really is the more market-based approach. We put a cap on emissions and that means that in the trading market what's traded are emissions reductions at the point at which the emissions occur.
Darren Samuelsohn: Like power plants?
Joseph Goffman: Exactly, industrial facilities, commercial facilities.
Darren Samuelsohn: Transportation as well, right?
Joseph Goffman: We do transportation like the Bingaman bill, which by putting a limitation on transportation fuel, but it's in the other areas where we differ, the other sectors where we differ. That means that our bill not only delivers more emissions reductions than the Bingaman bill, but it does it through a much larger, much more diverse, therefore much more dynamic market for emissions reductions, which because of its dynamism and size, will produce a continual downward pressure on compliance costs. If you look at the Bingaman bill, or the Bingaman proposal, what you see is essentially a quota on fuels. A limitation is placed directly on coal, on natural gas and on oil.
Darren Samuelsohn: At the source too.
Joseph Goffman: The source, at the point of the production of those fuels. That means that in a rising economy the fuel producers have very limited choices. If they're going to meet their demand in a rising context, then the chances are they're ultimately going to have to pay a fee or a tax in order to continue to supply the market. They simply have fewer alternatives for complying than our bill offers the private sector. So I would argue that our approach outflanks the Bingaman approach, both on the environmental side and on the economic side.
Darren Samuelsohn: Wave a magic wand over your bill and it passes next week, does the United States solve the global warming problem from our perspective if your bill were to be passed into law?
Joseph Goffman: Well the global warming problem, to be solved, really is a decades-long effort or enterprise. Senator Lieberman and Senator McCain believe that the most important thing for this generation of policymakers to do is to get a down payment done on the emissions and to put in place the architecture of a policy that can really deal with the problem going forward over the next 10, 20, 30, even 50 years. That's another reason that they think that now is the time for the Senate to vote yes for their bill, because this puts the foundation in place.
Darren Samuelsohn: OK. Now the incentive title, I'd like to get back to that, has caused a little bit of an uproar among the environmental community. Were you anticipating such a reaction?
Joseph Goffman: I think we were, but Senator Lieberman really does have a market vision. As you see from the emissions part of the bill, he wants to put every alternative on the table and let the market, for the most part, decide. The technology title, when it does its job in getting the new technologies through the innovation transition, really makes it possible for any technology that meets the test of being climate friendly, environmentally appropriate and economically viable can compete with any other technology.
Darren Samuelsohn: Last week there was a little bit of a staff briefing and Senators Lieberman and McCain came in and talked to the press and at the time Senator McCain kind of reacted kind of strongly about the environmental critics and said that they're unwilling to compromise and they've lost influence on Capitol Hill. Is Senator Lieberman in the same camp on that statement?
Joseph Goffman: What Senator Lieberman, I think, believes is that when the time comes for our bill to be voted on everybody, whether it's the environmental community or members of the Senate, will see it essentially as a test as to whether or not we're ready to go forward, to do something meaningful about greenhouse gas emissions. I think he's confident that the people who think that the answer to that question is yes will come forward.
Darren Samuelsohn: You're in kind of a familiar position here maybe. You were, in 1990, a member of the Senate staff that worked on the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. At the time I think you had come from Environmental Defense or you're going to Environmental Defense and Environmental Defense was one of the few environmental groups that came out in support, I guess, of the trading program for acid rain. Do you see similarities back to then to where we are now, in terms of why some environmental groups are absolutely opposed to this idea, but Environmental Defense, your former employer, is in support of this?
Joseph Goffman: That's exactly right. I think what was true during the 1990 Clean Air Act amendment debate and what is true now is that in order to pass something you need the support and the votes of people who don't agree with you about everything. That is to say there are going to be people in the Senate who, in addition to being willing to support a greenhouse program, think nuclear technology or advanced coal technology are a good idea. What Senator Lieberman recognizes, Senator Lieberman of all people recognizes is that you need to create a coalition big enough to accommodate those people, because that's how you pass legislation. It was the same approach that Senators Mitchell and Baucus took in 1990, at the time, putting forward the brand new idea of using marketable permits to reduce acid rain.
Darren Samuelsohn: How do you convince someone like Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader for the Democrats, whose home state is Yucca Mountain and has been vigorously fighting waste transported to the state of Nevada, to support something like this, to build new nuclear power plants?
Joseph Goffman: Well, ultimately you'll have to ask him, but I believe, or at least from what I've observed, is that he understands that the issue being put to the Senate is do we do something meaningful about greenhouse gases or not? Since that's the front line question, the dominant question, I believe that that's what he's focused on.
Darren Samuelsohn: OK.
Joseph Goffman: Remember, our bill does not preordain a nuclear future anymore than it preordains any other technological outcome. Nor does our bill wave a magic wand and say that all of the other problems that have to be solved involving different technologies are by fiat solved. This just opens the door to technological competition. It doesn't preordain which technologies are going to win the competition.
Darren Samuelsohn: From a simple numbers standpoint, going around talking to senators on Capitol Hill and asking them well what do they think of adding new nuclear language? Last week, the reactions from Senators Boxer, Cantwell and Feinstein was pretty negative to at least just a general description of what you've done with this new title, indicating you had 43 votes. So you didn't even have a majority in 2003, with the old bill, that you might have lost support. Do you have any sense that you're going to keep those three and have you lost more?
Joseph Goffman: Well, we have pretty good hope that we'll be able to keep them because when the bill gets to the floor the debate will be about climate ultimately and we're confident that those senators feel so strongly about the climate issue that they'll ultimately want to be lined up with us. Since after all, our bill does represent the most meaningful response to greenhouse gas emissions.
Darren Samuelsohn: Can you categorically rule out offering the 2003 version of the bill on the Senate floor?
Joseph Goffman: Pretty much.
Darren Samuelsohn: Pretty much.
Joseph Goffman: I think at the briefing that you were referring to, Senator McCain made it pretty clear that he was going to be offering the new version.
Darren Samuelsohn: OK. Most of, I wouldn't say most of the attention, but certainly we've been hearing quite a bit about this bill from Senators Bingaman and possibly Senator Domenici and the influence, if Senator Domenici were to sign off. Can you talk a little bit about that? I mean if Senator Domenici were to sign off on a climate change bill, what does that mean to this debate?
Joseph Goffman: Well, the first thing it means is that this is a real triumph, you know to have it be made clear that the majority manager of the energy bill thinks that climate has to be addressed is a real breakthrough. Then, of course, the issue is who has the votes? As pleased as we are that Senator Domenici might embrace climate as an issue, we're really quite anxious because Senator Lieberman does not think that the Bingaman proposal does much.
Darren Samuelsohn: Right.
Joseph Goffman: It's sort of a much ado about nothing situation in terms of emissions. I think he's also concerned that the architecture of the Bingaman policy is fatally flawed and that we'd have to really worry about the signal we'd be sending to all the states that produce fuels, like natural gas and coal. The last thing the climate debate can afford is to be seen as one in which our economy has to make a stark choice between doing something about emissions or continuing to use coal and other fossil fuels and to have a bill come forward that depends upon putting a quota on coal production, on a substantive level, really doesn't advance the debate. But as Senator Bingaman said on TV yesterday, on balance it's good news that there are now multiple alternatives before the Senate. It shows that the issue has really matured.
Darren Samuelsohn: If it came down to, it was 49 votes and Senators McCain and Lieberman were the two votes that pushed a Bingaman-Domenici bill over the edge, Bingaman has said he'd support your bill, do you think that McCain and Lieberman would cast those two winning, you know, the two votes to push it over the edge?
Joseph Goffman: I think that's an open question. I think Senator Lieberman obviously would like to be casting the winning vote for his bill and Senator Bingaman has said that if that's the case, then he won't even offer his. So right now that's what Senator Lieberman's focusing on and that's what we're working on.
Darren Samuelsohn: If either of these bills passes, your bill or if the Bingaman-Domenici bill passes, I'm sorry, I keep saying Domenici, it's too soon, too quick to do that, but if either bill passes, what does that mean for the United States going into the G8 talks next month in Scotland, where President Bush is going to meet with the heads of European nations and the issue of climate change is right at the top of the agenda? Either way, if it passes or it doesn't pass.
Joseph Goffman: Well, my guess is that even if none of these bills pass, at least one if not all of them, will make a strong showing and I think that will be a very strong statement about where the United States and the political leadership, broadly defined, is on climate. I also think that if we do pass one of these measures and we're still working to make it the McCain-Lieberman approach, that'll make an even stronger statement. After all, climate change is a long term issue. It's going to continue on beyond this administration and Prime Minister Blair is trying to set up climate change as something that not only requires immediate action, but also a long-term commitment, so almost whatever happens this week, the fact that it's getting so much attention in the run up to G8 Summit, shows that we may finally be turning and heading in the right direction in terms of the long term issue.
Darren Samuelsohn: And if it did pass, would the president be undermined as he goes over to Europe?
Joseph Goffman: Well, I leave it for his handlers to worry about that. Obviously Senator Lieberman's view is that it would actually strengthen his hand because it would allow him to join with the other heads of state as somebody representing a government that was in the process of coming up with a serious climate policy.
Darren Samuelsohn: Now, Vice President Cheney met with Senator Domenici on Friday, Senator Domenici's staff told us, and we don't know what happened in that room, but we know that Senator Domenici's staff came out after it and said that they were giving serious consideration to cosponsoring the Bingaman proposal. Where do you think the administration is right now, knowing that one of their key Republicans might be going a different direction than them? Do you think that this is something that, you know, if it were to pass and say the House were to let this go through, that this could be President Bush's first veto?
Joseph Goffman: I really don't know. I mean that's a kind of wide-open speculation that I don't, can't really add to. You know politics in some ways is very linear and whatever you say in June about what might happen in August really doesn't mean much and we're going to have to live through each of these steps.
Darren Samuelsohn: Sure.
Joseph Goffman: Really before we know why it happens.
Darren Samuelsohn: Impossible to know at this point where a conference could be on the energy bill?
Joseph Goffman: I think that's right.
Darren Samuelsohn: Let me just ask you, in terms of the way things are going to play out with this climate change debate, is there any possibility that when this is all said and done, that the Clear Skies proposal that the president has put forward and he's been trying to move, basically his approach to amend the Clean Air Act, is there any chance that that might come up as sort of a last minute thing at the end?
Joseph Goffman: There's no overt evidence of that happening and if we stick to this schedule that Senator Frist announced yesterday, about wanting to get the bill done by the end of the week, it seems that that would almost as a matter of time be hard to do. For the most part, I think the leaders have a bead on a handful of key issues that they know have to be debated. I'm not sure at this point that Clear Skies is one of them.
Darren Samuelsohn: Do you have any sense that the Senate, on the issue of Clear Skies, even just a bigger picture, is interested in trying to move this?
Joseph Goffman: Hard to say. I suspect that because the EPA went forward with its mercury rule and its Clean Air Interstate Rule addressing SOx and NOx, I think consciously or unconsciously a number of members of the Senate sort of checked the box.
Darren Samuelsohn: OK. Joe, it's going to be a busy couple of days. Thank you so much for being here. Until next time, this is Darren Samuelsohn for another edition of OnPoint.
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