PEEK

Sen. Boxer Makes Clear U.S. Won't Pass a Climate Bill This Year

Looks like there won't be any chance of climate legislation before Copenhagen in December.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, released her "Principles for Global Warming Legislation” at a press conference today. But her remarks contained the real news -- no chance of climate legislation be enacted into law this year.

Greenwire (subs. req'd) reports:

"Copenhagen is December,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) told reporters. "That's why I said we'll have a bill out of this committee by then.”

… Boxer added that she could move to mark up legislation quickly given her committee's large Democratic majority, but she would wait for now to build up support.

So Boxer's goal is to have an EPW bill by December. Then, of course, it has to go through Senate debate, get modified, and actually pass. And then, of course, it must be reconciled with the bill that comes from the House led by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA):

"When it comes to these bills, we're going to write our own bill, and he's going to write his own bill,” Boxer said of Waxman. "And we'll see where it goes. As far as coordinating and having exact legislation, we haven't decided.”

So reconciliation will probably not be easy nor fast, especially since this is a key point in the process for team Obama to weigh in. And then the final bill must pass both the House and Senate again, which will be yet another challenge, especially if the Senate bill borrows provisions from the presumably tougher House bill.

This timetable should be no surprise to CP readers. As I've said for a while, Obama should realize a 2009 bill is not possible, make lemon out of lemonade, and use this year to build domestic support for the bill, take strong actions on energy and climate that don't require congressional approval, and engage in high-level climate negotiations with China (see "Obama can get a better climate bill in 2010. Here's how.” and "Does a serious bill need action from China?").

As for Boxer's Principles, there is nothing terribly surprising here, although I think she overestimates how much of the auction revenues are likely to be available for her various desired purposes:

1. Reduce emissions to levels guided by science to avoid dangerous global warming.

2. Set short and long term emissions targets that are certain and enforceable, with periodic review of the climate science and adjustments to targets and policies as necessary to meet emissions reduction targets.

3. Ensure that state and local entities continue pioneering efforts to address global warming.

4. Establish a transparent and accountable market-based system that efficiently reduces carbon emissions.

5. Use revenues from the carbon market to:

- Keep consumers whole as our nation transitions to clean energy;

- Invest in clean energy technologies and energy efficiency measures;

- Assist states, localities and tribes in addressing and adapting to global warming impacts;

- Assist workers, businesses and communities, including manufacturing states, in the transition to a clean energy economy;

- Support efforts to conserve wildlife and natural systems threatened by global warming; and

-Work with the international community, including faith leaders, to provide support to developing nations in responding and adapting to global warming. In addition to other benefits, these actions will help avoid the threats to international stability and national security posed by global warming.

6. Ensure a level global playing field, by providing incentives for emission reductions and effective deterrents so that countries contribute their fair share to the international effort to combat global warming.

As a matter of politics, I believe the vast majority of the revenues from the auction will need to be returned to taxpayers -- that is to say, the vast middle class. I think at least 60% to 80% needs to be refunded to start with, rising to 80% to 90% within 10 years. Otherwise conservative opponents will simply attack this entire effort as a tax (see "Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 6: What the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill debate tells us"). Yes, they'll do so anyway, but if the bottom of three to four quintiles are made whole, the argument can be refuted.

It is also a tad surprising that she did not mention cost containment provisions, including rip-offsets, that so haunted her first attempt (see "Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill update: Probably no U.S. CO2 emissions cut until after 2025"). Needless to say, any significant number of rip-offsets would be utterly at odds with principle number one -- "Reduce emissions to levels guided by science to avoid dangerous global warming” (see "Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 8: The U.S. needs a tougher 2020 GHG emissions target").

Dr. Joseph Romm is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he oversees the blog ClimateProgress.org.