Policy News Update

November 20, 2009

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At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore, top officials acknowledged that the United Nations (UN) climate negotiations in Copenhagen next month will not produce a final international deal to reduce emissions.

Denmark Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who will host the December summit, proposed postponing binding emissions targets until the 2010 UN conference in Mexico City, calling instead for “precise language of a comprehensive political agreement covering all aspects of the Bali mandates: commitment of developed countries to reductions and of developing countries to actions; strong provisions on adaptation, finance and technology, including upfront finance for early action.” The “Bali mandates,” agreed upon at the 2007 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, provided a negotiation agenda and timetable for further international work on climate.

Although such an agreement falls short of hopes for a replacement Kyoto Protocol, Rasmussen warned that it may now be the international community’s only option for addressing climate change. The result of the Copenhagen talks, he said, should be global but sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of countries with different national circumstances. The overarching goal, although deferred to 2010, would remain the same: “to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius as recommended by science.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Copenhagen talks a “stepping stone” that would eventually lead to a legally binding international agreement. Clinton stressed the importance of moving forward even though no perfect solution exists. To make the talks a success, though, she called for:


Following a contentious partisan debate in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), a bipartisan group of lawmakers will attempt to craft a more moderate bill capable of garnering the support necessary for its passage. (For more information on the EPW vote, see the November 6 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/11062009.php). Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will spend the next few weeks writing a legislative outline for a compromise bill that combines cap-and-trade with provisions such as nuclear industry incentives and wider offshore drilling. Kerry and Graham recently teamed up to draft an op-ed supporting climate legislation, marking the first sign of bipartisan support for the Senate’s current climate effort.

Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are aiming to release the blueprint before the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, which will begin on December 7. The three senators plan to engage the White House from the onset, attempting to find areas where the Obama Administration is willing to make concessions to win over additional senators. To broaden support for the bill as much as possible, they will also spend the rest of the year meeting with key Democratic committee leaders, as well as with lawmakers who don’t sit on committees with jurisdiction.

Once they have weaved the various interests together and received the approval of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the authors will send their bill to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for analysis. This analysis is expected to take about five weeks to complete, making quick action imperative for the authors if their bill is to be ready for a floor debate next spring. Kerry had suggested setting deadlines for committees to pass their respective parts of the bill, but he shifted gears after facing complaints from moderate Democrats. An artificial timeline, he concluded, would make it difficult to ensure that all participants’ ideas and concerns are heard.

Senate Democratic leaders now hope to hold a floor debate on climate and energy legislation next spring, after the chamber finishes its work on healthcare and financial regulatory reform. Several key players, including the bill’s lead author Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) support tackling financial reform first. "I think it'd be good if we do that first, because it helps to establish the rules of the marketplace," Kerry said.

The UN recently acknowledged that Copenhagen will not be the culmination of international efforts as many once expected. Thinking of the summit more as a “stepping stone,” climate envoys are now setting their sights on the Mexico City conference scheduled for December 2010. This revised schedule gives those supporting US climate legislation some much-needed time to negotiate additional votes. Currently, they are between 15 and 20 votes short of the 60 needed for passage in the Senate. If the lawmakers do hit their spring 2010 target (and craft a bill capable of clearing the Senate) the US could be in a position to make firm commitments in Mexico City.

The spring deadline is also critical for Democrats facing re-election in 2010. As elections approach, lawmakers tend to shy away from controversial issues – many would prefer to complete a House-Senate climate conference bill before Memorial Day, meaning that the Senate would have to finish its work no later than March. But observers are now asking whether climate will come up at all before the November elections, since lawmakers will be under pressure to address voter concerns, most notably the economy and unemployment. Reid himself faces a difficult re-election campaign, and has been lining up the legislative calendar to focus on issues most important to the public, postponing the climate debate to focus on financial reform and floating the idea of an additional economic recovery bill.

Indeed, voter interest in the economy has prompted supporters of climate change legislation to frame the debate in economic rather than ecological terms, focusing on the potential for job growth as well as support from large utilities and businesses. During the EPW markup, Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called attention to a “game changing” November 3 letter of support from the US Chamber of Commerce. One of the fiercest opponents of the House bill, the Chamber vowed in the letter to work with Congress on climate legislation and highlighted its priorities, including expanded offshore drilling. Lawmakers’ interest in industry support was further demonstrated during the EPW pre-markup hearings, where witnesses were predominantly industry representatives, both for and against the bill. The business sector is still divided on its stance in the climate debate; although many groups could benefit, others (such as the refining and manufacturing industries) stand to take a hit. Conservative and industry critics continue to argue that the bill would lead to job losses, while supporters contend that shifting to alternative energies would, among other things, spur job growth. According to Kerry, “The proposals we are discussing will create millions of jobs, lower energy bills and reduce dependence on foreign oil imports. They will also invest significantly in 21st century clean energy technologies to make America more competitive.”


Working to build consensus and establish a timeline, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) recently met with the chairs of the six committees with jurisdiction over the climate bill. The group will meet again before December’s international climate summit in Copenhagen.

Aside from the Environment and Public Works Committee – which recently advanced its portion of the bill, amid partisan controversy – only the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has produced specific language.


On November 17, President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao announced the launch of a broad collaborative effort to tackle climate change and encourage a positive outcome at Copenhagen. Together, the US and China are responsible for more than 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The effort includes a spate of corporate agreements, as well as specific provisions for:

Many advocates of a global treaty say they were pleasantly surprised about the treaty, particularly the funding levels for the research center, which climbed from an initial agreement of $15 million in October. They say the agreement will provide a practical basis for any political commitments the countries make at upcoming climate talks. The leaders did not discuss specific emission targets, however, and neither country has set a timetable for emissions reduction.


On November 6, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent its final endangerment finding to the White House. The Office of Management and Budget will have 90 days to review it, although many expect a decision to come before the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, set to begin December 7. If approved, the finding would open the door for EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses and facilitate a number of other federal climate regulations. For more information on the endangerment finding, see the April 23 edition of the ESA Policy News at: www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2009/04232009.php


As Congress struggles to move forward with a cap-and-trade bill, three regional carbon dioxide regulators are considering joining forces to form a “de facto” federal cap on carbon. The programs cover 23 states – comprising the majority of the nation’s economy and populations – and 4 Canadian provinces. The large-scale effort would create a single market for pollution permits, standardizing the price tag on emissions and allowing participants to trade permits freely.
The three groups are at different stages of development. One is currently limiting emissions on power plants; the remaining two plan to begin in 2012, when they will extend cuts to other sectors, such as the automobile and manufacturing industries.


On November 7, the US, Canada, and Mexico signed an agreement to work together in protecting North American wilderness. The memorandum of understanding, signed at the WILD9 international conference, is the first continental wilderness agreement. It will remove restrictions on cooperation across borders – by making it easier for land managers from different jurisdictions to collaborate, the agreement strives to improve connectivity between protected areas. The signatories acknowledged that the fence recently erected along a large portion of the US-Mexico border will make it difficult to realize some of the goals of the collaboration. Some hope to see cross-boundary wildlife passageways incorporated into future efforts.


The House National Parks Subcommittee recently held a hearing to promote a number of public lands bills. The Forest Service and National Park Service recommended three be postponed for further study, prompting criticism from the bills’ supporters.

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, ClimateWire, Politico, the Washington Post

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