President Obama would prefer to tackle global warming through a cap-and-trade bill but remains open to setting rules for cars and power plants as a backstop, his top energy and climate adviser said yesterday.
"The president continues to believe the best path forward is through legislation, rather than through sort of the weaving together the various authorities of the Clean Air Act, which may or may not end in a cap-and-trade program," Carol Browner told the Western Governors Association during its winter meetings in Washington yesterday. "You can get the clearest instruction by passing legislation."
U.S. EPA administrator for eight years under President Bill Clinton, Browner reminded the governors that federal climate rules are forthcoming under Supreme Court precedent set in April 2007 in Massachusetts v. EPA.
"If [Administrator] Lisa Jackson from EPA were here, she'd remind all of us that EPA is sitting on some authorities to regulate greenhouse gases, whether it be greenhouse gas emissions associated with automobiles or with smokestacks," Browner said. "There's a Supreme Court decision and we're coming up, I think, on the second anniversary of that decision that told EPA to do a set of things and the administration and the president has been very clear that we're going to comply with the law and we're going to comply with the science."
The prospect of EPA regulations has long been seen as a motivating force for lawmakers to act on climate legislation. And with Democratic House and Senate leaders planning legislation this year, Browner yesterday even allowed herself briefly to look beyond the Hill debate and on to a climate law's eventual implementation.
"Passing a bill will be the first step," she said. "And then we'll have to do all the rule makings, and so the actual point of compliance, if you will, will be several years out."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who attended the same WGA meeting minutes after Browner, warned that the upcoming global warming debate would require careful negotiations. Still, he predicted success in 2009.
"I think a climate change bill is going to be a very robust bill and I think a difficult bill to get through," Salazar said. "But I think it's something we will get through. And I think it will happen this year."
Browner did not offer a prediction on when Congress will finish a climate bill and paused when reporters asked if Obama wanted a final global warming law in hand for United Nations-led global warming negotiations scheduled for this December in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"I don't want to prejudge the process," she said. "I think, as someone who's thought about these issues for a very, very long time, as someone who's worked on these issues for a very long time, the fact that the Congress is turning their attention to these issues in both the House and the Senate, that the leadership is speaking to these issues, I think is hugely significant."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week said he hoped to hold a floor debate on a climate bill by the end of the summer. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has pledged a first-ever climate vote this year on cap-and-trade legislation that Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) expects to mark up before Memorial Day.
"I think that it's an aggressive timeframe that's been laid out in the House," Browner said of Waxman and Pelosi's strategy. The White House adviser also said she expects Waxman will outline "the shape of that legislation" in the next few weeks.
Browner says it's Congress' call on energy/climate sequencing
Browner deferred to Congress on the question of sequencing the climate legislation with an energy proposal that sets a nationwide target for renewable electricity production. Reid plans to move the so-called renewable electricity standard, or RES, through the Senate this spring, separate from the climate bill. Waxman has said he would likely package the RES with his climate bill.
"They'll sort through what the right process is," Browner said. "We're going to work with them, but it's their call on what the process should be."
But Salazar, a former Colorado Democratic senator, left the strong impression yesterday that the global warming debate would need more time than the energy bill because of its complexity.
"The climate change bill I think is a little more complicated and, frankly, it's going to take us a little more time to weather the politics of that, trying to get the 60 votes that we need in the U.S. Senate to get something through," Salazar said. "And the issues are difficult. When you start talking about what kinds of allowances are going to be made for existing emitters. Or whether you're not going to allow any allowances at all. And you start talking about the allocations of billions of dollars in research and development and other kinds of things, it creates lots of issues."