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Climate Legislation Uncertain in Congress

Latest News on Climate Legislation
Climate and energy legislation in the US Congress faces tough prospects for the coming year, coming to the forefront as they are after Congress's bruising battle over health care policy, an NGO official said.

The House of Representatives last year passed the Waxman-Markey energy legislation and the Senate Environment and Public Works committee reported favorably on the Boxer-Kerry bill before Senate Democrats lost their 60th, filibuster-safe seat, said Brad Penney, director of government relations for the Alliance to Save Energy. Both bills call for cap-and-trade regimes and significant cuts in greenhouse gas emission by 2050.

In the new political environment, the fate of both of these bills is questionable, with many factions characterizing them as essentially taxes on energy, Penney said before the Association of Energy Engineers.

Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman have been discussing new forms of legislation for climate change. But the political deadline of the November election is approaching, and, Penney said, if viable legislative ideas do not emerge around the time of the spring recess the 2010 political calendar may be too short for passage of legislation before the elections. It is possible that there would be a stand-alone energy bill that does not address climate change, he continued.

But the climate bill negotiations that are underway are seeing a shift in the debate. Some have proposed adding offshore drilling and nuclear power funding as integral parts of the bill as sweeteners to induce the votes necessary for passage. However, Penney noted, those provisions could be so objectionable to others that they might cause a loss of support.

One new idea that has gain interest has been called "cap and dividend" in which the money received from carbon credits will be refunded to citizens. The idea is already the centerpiece of pending bills in Congress. But Penney said that lawmakers have started thinking of rolling in a carbon fee-then rebate strategy into new legislation. One idea would have most of the fees return to the public soon, with increasing amounts of rebates in future years.