Energy and Climate Change Primer for the 111th CongressMarch 18, 2009 - by Avelino Maestas
The AIG bonus scandal is burning through the media universe, but Congress is also continuing work on the legislative agenda. Some of the big pieces in the coming months will be on the energy front. New details were recently released about a proposed renewable energy standard (which would require utilities to produce a percentage of their power via renewable sources, like solar and wind). How that RES bill will move through the House and, more importantly, the Senate, is a bit confusing and very political. So, here’s an OpenCongress primer on the looming energy/climate change battle.
For starters, let’s look at the big-name players in the game. In the House, you’re talking about Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He waged a successful campaign to uproot former Energy Committee Chair Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) at the start of the 111th Congress, and there’s general agreement that climate change legislation was one reason why. Waxman is an ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and will play a major role in shaping any energy or climate change legislation in the House. Also keep an eye on Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who introduced an RES bill last month.
In the Senate, things start to get complicated. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Bingaman introduced renewable energy standard legislation in the 110th Congress, which was removed from a larger energy bill amid Republican opposition. Bingaman wants to proceed on separate bills for RES, for energy in general, and for climate change (likely in the form of a cap-and-trade bill).
Until recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seemed to be fine with that idea. After President Barack Obama called for climate change legislation during his address to Congress, however, Reid changed his tune. He is now pushing for a comprehensive bill that will include all three elements. Bingaman has argued that each piece of the agenda will require finesse to reach the 60-vote Senate cloture threshold, and he’s reluctant to combine the different objectives.
The wildcard in all this might be the Obama Administration itself. In February, an Obama energy adviser not-so-subtly warned that the Environmental Protection Agency may impose regulations on emissions from cars and smokestacks (as a result of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling). That’s an option with little appeal to lawmakers, and one that might encourage them to work quickly to pass climate change legislation, a renewable energy standard, or both.
You can stay tuned to this space for more, and you can always track what’s happening in these issue areas through OpenCongress. If you’re a registered user, check out climate change, energy or more than 4,000 other issues.
Image (used under a Creative Commons license) by Chandra Marsono.