Pew's Claussen previews upcoming debate on Senate bill

As the Senate begins to weigh in on the Kerry-Lieberman "American Power Act," what changes can Democrats make to the bill to reach 60 votes for passage? During today's OnPoint, Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, discusses the political challenges facing the bill and explains what changes may need to be made to garner Republican votes.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Eileen, nice to see you again.

Eileen Claussen: It's great to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Eileen, Senators Kerry and Lieberman recently introduced a draft of the American Power Act. It's their take on climate legislation. What do you think the most notable items of the draft are?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I think it's got a set of ambitious, but achievable targets. I think it deals with cost containment issues in a positive kind of way. I think a lot of the revenues are going back to consumers, whether they are individuals in households or industries that would be affected by this. So, I think there's that. There's a lot of incentives for clean energy technology, so, all in all, it is a comprehensive package.

Monica Trauzzi: The politics of all of this is probably one of the more interesting issues. How do you expect things to shape up over the next several weeks as they try to get this or some form of this bill to the floor?

Eileen Claussen: Well, of course, the challenge is 60 votes and I think it's interesting to look at the first comments that have come out from other senators about this and I think you get a range of views from that and it's worth paying a little attention to it. I mean the minority leader, Senator McConnell, said this was a job killing energy tax and I think the opposition, people who really don't want to do anything on this subject, will be using that as a refrain. I think it's interesting that Senator Voinovich said he liked the nuclear portions of this bill, but he didn't think they were strong enough and he was going to do his own bill. I think it's interesting that Senator Lugar said, no, he would not support this, but that he is working on his own bill. And I think maybe most interesting of all, Senator Snowe said that a broad initiative like this is really challenging at this time. And, to me, that is the key. Is it too challenging and do we need to move to something that is perhaps a little narrower, that could actually gain 60 votes?

Monica Trauzzi: So, one of the other issues, of course, is the fact that this was released without the support of Senator Graham, who had been involved in these discussions all along. How damaging do you think that is to the vote count and also the debate that we're going to see moving forward?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I think it's very damaging. I mean before you had a Democrat, an Independent, and a Republican putting something forward and, as everybody knows, this has to be a bipartisan 60 votes. You can't do it with one party. I mean not only do the Democrats only have 59, but some Democrats probably will not vote for this, so it has to be bipartisan. And I think the lack of a Republican cosponsor is very damaging. And the question is how do they go about trying to get enough Republicans, probably at least six and maybe more, to support really anything on the energy and climate front in this Congress?

Monica Trauzzi: So, really, with the release of this draft the hard part is not over.

Eileen Claussen: Oh, the hard part has barely begun.

Monica Trauzzi: The transportation sector is handled interestingly and differently in this draft than what we've seen in other proposals. They won't be able to trade allowances. Do you expect that that's one of those items is going to be debated and eventually changed once ...

Eileen Claussen: I think there are lots of questions about the transportation piece of this and maybe we could just sort of talk about oil. I mean how is it treated here and what about the drilling provisions, which I think are also controversial. So, on the actual provisions in the bill, it is treated separately. I think that's what the oil companies asked for and that's what they got, because one other things that you can see as you look at this bill is what people asked for and how that was accommodated in the bill to try to deal with all the different interests that you have. I think that will be debated. I think the whole issue of whether you include oil under the cap will be debated because that is the clearest way for the opponents to say this is a tax and, whether it is or not, actually, is irrelevant. It will be labeled that way and I think when consumers see a price at the pump that's bigger because of a government action they may view it that way. So, I think there are questions about the transportation piece in total and the drilling piece is another wild card, in a way. I mean this was first drafted when it was thought that by adding the drilling piece you might be able to pick up Republican support, because this is also then an energy security bill. But in light of the spill, I think what is in the bill is, at best, a work in progress, because I think you really need to have some safeguards if you're going to include anything on drilling. And we've learned that the current system is not working.

Monica Trauzzi: This, seemingly, has been called a fresh approach to climate legislation. Would you say that its miles away from what the House passed and, if so, then is it a nonstarter?

Eileen Claussen: I don't think its miles away. I mean there's a slightly longer delay for bringing in industry, but they're still brought in under the cap. There was a slightly different system with putting oil under the cap, but oil is under the cap in both. It is essentially a cap-and-trade bill. I think that's pretty clear. There is, of course, no drilling, no nuclear incentives in the House bill, so there are clean energy pieces and energy security pieces in this that are not in the House, but I think, quite honestly, if it could get through the Senate you could have a conference and come out with something that was acceptable to both houses. The bigger challenge is not the conference; it's getting 60 votes in the Senate in a very difficult year with a lot of things on the agenda.

Monica Trauzzi: So, this idea that cap and trade is dead, do you not buy into that?

Eileen Claussen: I think the term has been vilified, but I think the concept is not dead.

Monica Trauzzi: One of the other major issues that's being discussed with this draft bill is how states and regions are handled. Essentially, the state and regional cap-and-trade programs are being preempted by the Kerry-Lieberman approach. Does that discount the progress and work that these regions have been doing to reduce emissions the last several years and how do you see this playing out moving forward?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I mean let me say upfront that we wouldn't be having this debate at the national level if it hadn't been for the states taking the lead and moving forward on their own plans. So, if we're going to have a national system, I mean it's not clear if we're going to make it this year, although I think we do have a shot, but we wouldn't even have a shot if it wasn't for what the states have done. That said, it is much more effective and efficient to have a national cap-and-trade program. I mean it brings in states and regions there were not part of the earlier efforts, which are essential. It's much more efficient if you have a lot more entities that are controlled by this. So, I think the preemption of regional cap-and-trade efforts is probably right, much as the states don't like it, and I think it's worth pointing out that there's a huge amount of work that the states can do to make this a reality. I mean they have jurisdiction over lots of issues. They can do things on energy efficiency. They can do things in dealing with waste. They have lots of abilities to really make a difference, but I think cap and trade would be much better if it was national than regional.

Monica Trauzzi: How do Democrats need to brand this bill moving forward so that it doesn't have a negative impact in November?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I mean I think when Senators Kerry and Lieberman introduced this they called it a jobs bill, they called it an energy security bill and they gave it a lot of those kinds of titles and, in some sense, it is. It certainly will create jobs, of course there will also probably be some jobs lost and we're not very good at figuring out what the net effect is. But will it create jobs? Yeah. Will it move the country toward a clean energy economy, which is, I think, where future growth is? Yes. So, I think that's fair. So, I mean there are a lot of ways to talk about this, energy security, jobs and the economy, clean energy, which I think are appealing. Whereas, cap and trade, unfortunately, it is not that appealing, even though it's the most effective and efficient system for doing this kind of thing.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, a bit of a tough sell maybe.

Eileen Claussen: A tough sell.

Monica Trauzzi: We'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Eileen Claussen: Well, thank you.

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

[End of Audio]



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