A Mixed Bag of Bills Addresses Environment, Cap and Trade
Last year saw an unprecedented flurry of climate and energy discussion and debate on Capitol Hill. Barack Obama came to Washington promising to make climate change and energy legislation high priorities. In June, when the House of Representatives passed the hotly debated Waxman-Markey bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it looked as though Obama's energy/climate agenda had gained some serious momentum. Support for the bill was even slightly bipartisan — eight Republicans were among the "ayes," eight more than had voted for the stimulus bill earlier that year.
Since then, however, the climate/energy momentum has melted away. Over the course of the second half of 2009, as the health care debate became increasingly fierce, separate Senate energy and climate bills both got bogged down and failed to make it to the floor for a vote.
For facility departments — which will likely be at the tip of the spear for any organizational energy efficiency and emissions reduction charge — the uncertainty about the fate of climate change and energy legislation complicates planning for energy measures. Is it better to act now and reduce energy costs sooner, or wait and see if legislation offers incentives that could increase the return on energy-efficiency investments? And what would it mean if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) successfully enacts greenhouse gas emissions regulations on which it is currently working? Would these supercede eventual Congressional climate change action?
One thing that facility managers shouldn't do is bury their heads in the sand and hope the whole issue goes away. Even those opposed to climate and energy legislation agree that it's an issue that won't be easily whisked under the rug. Climate/energy debate, argument and deal-making will continue in the legislative chambers.
A Mixed Bag of Bills
The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) — better known as Waxman-Markey — passed the House last June by a narrow 219-212 vote. The Waxman-Markey bill is the first bill with cap and trade language ever to pass a house of Congress. Through a complicated process of allowances and offsets, the measure endeavors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 83 percent over 2005 levels by 2050. Cap and trade is what made the headlines last June when Waxman-Markey passed. It drew the cheers of environmentalists and the ire of conservatives.
The controversy surrounding cap and trade and some of the other energy provisions, including the national model energy code (see "National Energy Code" on this page), national renewable portfolio standards and national energy efficiency resource standards, have resulted in several competing studies and findings about the future cost of energy, about how much the bill would actually reduce emissions, and whether the bill would really be able to mitigate climate change.
Those and a whole host of other factors have prevented a Senate climate or energy bill from making it to the floor for a vote. For starters, because of the way Senate committees are arranged, two separate bills were introduced, one dealing with energy policy, the other with climate change.
The energy bill is called the American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACELA). Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) introduced this bipartisan bill last March and it emerged from committee soon after Waxman-Markey passed. It has sat idle since, though a hearing is expected in the relatively near future, says Sally Larsen, associate for governmental relations for the Alliance to Save Energy. "ACELA is not at all dead," she says. "It's just resting, perhaps."
By contrast, the Senate climate change bill, which includes a cap and trade program, may be dead, says Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (CEJAPA) last October as a largely partisan measure, in the hope they might have the 60-vote supermajority required to override a Republican filibuster. With Republican Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts in January, however, there are 59 Democratic Senators, so other bipartisan avenues are being explored.
One possibility is a "tri-partisan" climate bill that Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Kerry are working on. Speculation is that the bill wouldn't include cap and trade, and would provide for emissions reduction targets in other ways. The bill would also include language for some traditionally Republican climate/energy issues, like clean coal, nuclear power, and offshore oil and gas drilling — three issues Obama also mentioned as possibilities in his State of the Union address.
"It's definitely not true that an energy/climate bill is inevitable," says Manik Roy, vice president of federal government outreach for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "But it seems like there is potential for bipartisan cooperation."
Still, there are hurdles. One, says Larsen, is the simple fact that this is a mid-term election year. Not only will many senators be away from Washington, they may also be hesitant to make controversial votes. For example, Democratic senators in coal states may be forced to choose whether to vote the way their constituents would want or to stick with Obama and their party's agenda.
Additionally, the Senate is still extremely divided by partisanship. "The question is whether Republican moderates will engage," says Roy. "There's a theory right now that Republicans will boycott any initiative the President says he's for."
Nadel agrees: "The Congressional system is broken right now. Republicans can make more hay by simply saying 'no.' So we're sort of at loggerheads. What needs to happen is compromise, not just posturing."