Attorney Mark Menezes sees environment, global warming as factors in '08 elections

As the Democrats prepare to take on leadership of both the House and Senate, questions still remain as to whether they will be successful in passing climate change legislation. During today's OnPoint, Mark Menezes, partner at Hunton & Williams, discusses how the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Environment and Public Works committees will shape the future success of climate change legislation. Menezes does not see a high probability that climate legislation will come into final law prior to 2008 but sees fairly ambitious goals put forth in the interim.


Darren Samuelsohn: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Darren Samuelsohn. Joining me today in Washington is Mark Menezes, former Republican chief counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Also Mark is now a partner at the law firm of Hunton & Williams. Mark, thanks for coming on the program.

Mark Menezes: I'm glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

Darren Samuelsohn: You sat across the aisle from Congressman John Dingell, who's now on his way to becoming the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Give me a sense, what do you think his approach is going to be when he takes up the gavel and he moves on climate change issues?

Mark Menezes: Well, I think his approach is going to be very similar to the approach that he had when he ended up losing the gavel to the Republicans. That is he has a very good staff. He's very circumspect of the issues. On global warming, or climate in particular, it's interesting to note that he's been reported as saying that, in fact, that's going to be a key issue that his committee, and he was fond of calling it his committee, even as ranking member, will take up. So you now see John Dingell mentioning global warming. And historically, for this committee, we've had very significant majority votes to kill legislation, if you will, that sought to try to address global warming. Now, in some instances, those were provisions that came over from another committee exercising jurisdiction. And, to be sure, Chairman Dingell guards jealously the jurisdiction of the committee. But on substance, Chairman Dingell, as well as several of the minority, now majority members, always watch very closely any provisions on climate.

Darren Samuelsohn: He has said that he will focus on oversight. Do you think that he stops there?

Mark Menezes: No. John Dingell, historically, held both the chairman of the full committee and chairman of the O&I subcommittee. Now the rules are such that perhaps he can't do that, but he did say that he was going to look into that. Now that's significant because he certainly appreciates, probably more than anybody else, the role of how oversight can be used to translate into legislation. So you're going to see him using O&I not only to go after fraud, waste and abuse, but actually to find out information that would help him craft legislation on this.

Darren Samuelsohn: How does that translate actually? How do you go from investigations to actual legislation? Is he gleaning information from his witnesses that's actually going to translate to a bill?

Mark Menezes: Absolutely. I mean there's lot of evidence out there and there are several ways that you try to gather information whenever you're trying to look at legislation. You can have hearings, although that's -- you know, sometimes people have a lot of time to prepare what they're going to say, so the information that they give is scripted. But you know there's also a lot of other data out there that could be supporting some of that information. So through the use of issuance of subpoenas or conducting oversight investigations you have access to a lot of information that you might not otherwise get in the course of a hearing. And, in fact, when I was on the committee recently Chairman Dingell, then ranking member Dingell and his staff was very good about getting evidence into a hearing, into the record to support some of its positions that it was taking on substantive legislative positions.

Darren Samuelsohn: Everybody knows that he is a big champion of the auto industry. How critical will that be as he looks into this issue?

Mark Menezes: Well, I think it's already evident in him saying that he is going to have global warming as an issue that his committee will look at. So that sends the message there that he will have to take into account those interests. And I think that if you look and see what he says that some of the provisions may include, that, in fact, he has already made an outreach, and I think the industry knows whether it be CAFE, fuel efficiency or a variety of different things like that, as to what they are prepared to consider. You know, they see it at certain state levels as well. So they're well advanced on trying to determine what they can do. I think the other thing that's significant also is that Henry Waxman is on the committee, who has been a big champion of global warming. I think too that Chairman Dingell has sent a message that he will rule the committee and he will have say over what is in any global warming legislation or climate change legislation.

Darren Samuelsohn: Now the other shoe fell shortly after the House, in terms of the Democrats in the Senate taking control. Barbara Boxer is now going to be the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. How far does she get on global warming issues?

Mark Menezes: Well, she's already just announced that she is going to use the California bill as a vehicle to certainly begin discussions on that. And those are fairly tough standards to reach, if you will. I mean it's something that is much different from the Bush administration with respect to reduction in intensity. So that's going to be thrown out there. What the reaction will be will be interesting. I'd also like to note that to assist Chairwoman Boxer is actually a former House staffer. She has seen the good wisdom to promote a former House staffer, Bettina Poirier, who ...

Darren Samuelsohn: Will be her new chief counsel.

Mark Menezes: ... will be her new chief counsel and knows theses issues very well. And so you know that the issues will get a very thorough consideration evaluation.

Darren Samuelsohn: Between the two of them do you think we see a markup before 2007 is over in their committees, either House or Senate?

Mark Menezes: I think you'll see a bunch of hearings. I think that there may be an attempt for markup. I mean who really knows. I think what you're going to see is a push, an announcement on global warming climate, not an incremental approach, but across industries, seeking reductions, perhaps not reduction in intensity. Fairly ambitious goals to meet. And then from there, with Chairwoman Boxer being as the key person who will determine what elements of a bill stay in, get modified, she will be there. She will have to carry the burden to convince leadership. Remember, in the Senate you need 60 votes. You can look at it a couple of ways, after the hearings she can either call a markup because she knows that she's not going to have it and she wants to make a point. Or, in fact, she has worked well and leadership has given her the green light. And with the moderates that are there, perhaps, you can say that the floor schedule can open up.

Darren Samuelsohn: Who else will be key outside of the Environment and Public Works Committee in the Senate and the House Energy and Commerce Committee? What other lawmakers are going to be critical to actually seeing anything move?

Mark Menezes: Well, in the Senate, as you know, unless you have 60 you're not going to move anything.

Darren Samuelsohn: So Pete Domenici is very important?

Mark Menezes: Pete Domenici, Bingaman, of course, Baucus and Grassley, because a lot of this may very well be incentives to move behavior on that.

Darren Samuelsohn: So you see the Finance Committee and the Ways and Means Committee in the House also probably getting involved in this?

Mark Menezes: I do. I do.

Darren Samuelsohn: And that's also as they're dilly-dallying with like the -- it's not really dilly-dallying, but as they start ...

Mark Menezes: That's your word.

Darren Samuelsohn: Yeah.

Mark Menezes: It's not mine.

Darren Samuelsohn: As they start to dole out credits if we get into a cap-and-trade program. That's a pretty complicated subject.

Mark Menezes: It's all part of it. It's all part of it.

Darren Samuelsohn: Winners and losers. And that can get really long and complicated and drawn out.

Mark Menezes: Well, it can. The other thing that viewers need to keep in mind is when you talk in terms of global warming or climate, while there is a rush to, say, a hard carbon cap or a cap-and-trade, there are many, many parts of it. And you see this with some of the announcements on use of renewables, increased energy efficiencies, fuel choices, etc. All of that plays a part. There's no one thing. It's extraordinarily broad in its outreach. So what you can see is a lot of activity in these different committees on things that they have jurisdiction over, all toward the goal of coming together in a bill that could have the result of being a climate bill.

Darren Samuelsohn: President Bush has extended an olive branch. He's going to work with the Democratic leaders. Do you think he softens his position, he reverses his position on climate change?

Mark Menezes: I think, for the President, I think he should consider whether or not he has an opportunity to do something circumspectual and reasonable on climate if in fact it's presented to him to look at that. If he is included and his administration is included in the negotiations and there is true bipartisan, good faith attempt to try to work this out, as opposed to stridency and sending him something for veto bait. You know, in almost a repeat of Bush 481, where the Congress sent him legislation after legislation to veto. Then I think he will be put in a position to think very carefully about whether he should sign something like that or veto. And it seems to me that the message that he would want to send to the people is whether or not, when they consider the upcoming election for President, as to whether or not, on the issue of environment and energy, whether it's a good thing to have and to continue with the Republican leadership or not.

Darren Samuelsohn: Is it good politics for the senators who are in Congress right now, who may be running for president to get involved in this issue?

Mark Menezes: I think so. It's going to definitely be a factor. It was not a factor as high as one might have thought in the recent elections. I think the exit polls show that the war in Iraq, you know some of the corruption arguments, not one in particular, even how Katrina was handled, all of that rose higher than a level of anyone coming out of the booth calling for climate change legislation. Or high gasoline taxes, which was somewhat surprising because I think that it was something we were always concerned about on the committee. That if we didn't bring down the price of gasoline, and you saw, in the bills that we tried to pass, I'm sorry, that the House passed after the energy bill of '05, we really tried to lower the price of gasoline. As it turns out exit polls, and apparently most analyses, show that that was not a major consideration.

Darren Samuelsohn: With Republicans and Democrats possibly out of the Senate, running for the presidency in 2008, McCain, Clinton, Obama, do they rather see it get enacted before they have to really get involved in their campaigns do you think? Or do you think they're thinking about this, laying out ideas, and then when they become President they're the ones who would sign it into law?

Mark Menezes: My opinion only? Take this issue away from me please. The issue is extraordinarily difficult. The consequence, if you don't get it right, could be a very negative affect on the American economy, certainly compared to the rest of the globe as well, because these are global emissions we're talking about. And the American economy can take huge hits and you may not have as big a dent on the total global emissions as you would like to achieve. So if I'm running for President, my own opinion is, please do something now. I can say we will monitor it. However, it's not an issue that I have to lead with, nor, frankly, make some very difficult decisions. Furthermore, it's always a good idea to try to get issues in front of Congress because if you don't always accomplish what you set out you can sometimes have the effect of having congressional fatigue set in. And there's only so much time and energy that they will continue to come back to consider these issues.

Darren Samuelsohn: Last question. There will be a silly season that will begin at some point with the presidential campaign heating up. What's sort of the last sort of threshold when action could happen before it's sort of impossible to try and move anything in a presidential election campaign?

Mark Menezes: I think they'll have one year pretty good faith efforts. I think after that, that period from January to March, essentially before a lot of the primaries are done, is going to be critical. So I think that you'll have essentially from March, when they really get back in and able to sink their teeth in things, if they can move along through the appropriations process, I'm sure that they can demonstrate some good things. They'll have until probably October to gain the good graces of the American population. And then, I think at that point, it resorts to presidential politics.

Darren Samuelsohn: What do you think Vegas is putting the odds on this all coming into final law?

Mark Menezes: Not high.

Darren Samuelsohn: Not high? All right. Thanks Mark.

Mark Menezes: Thank you.

Darren Samuelsohn: I appreciate you coming on the show.

Mark Menezes: Enjoyed it.

Darren Samuelsohn: Until next time, this is Darren Samuelsohn for another edition of OnPoint. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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