Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bush to Support Climate Change Legislation?

There has been some debate within the environmental community about whether to try to pass climate change legislation this year. On the one hand, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible; that will require federal regulation to achieve anything meaningful. On the other hand, passing a weak bill this year could forestall more serious legislation next year, when the political climate in Washington should be much more favorable to reform. (That assumes, of course, that Democrats win the White House and pick up seats in the Senate. While both seem likely, neither is guaranteed.)

Bush has done nothing to ease those concerns. Today his administration started hinting that it might support climate change legislation. In fact, White House officials met with several denialist Republican Congressmen over the weekend to discuss some climate-related legislative proposals. But it's not because he is concerned about the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been told by the Supreme Court that carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, is a pollutant and must be regulated if the EPA determines it is a danger to health and welfare.

At the same time, the Interior Department is under pressure to give polar bears special protection under the Endangered Species Act because of disappearing Arctic sea ice. A lawsuit also has been filed under the same law for more protection for arctic seals.

Together these cases would pull the enforcement of the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act into the debate over climate change. This is a "regulatory trajectory ... we think is fraught with peril and that will ultimately end up in a train wreck," said Perino.
Yes, the Bush administration wants a weak bill now to avoid a stronger regulations in the near future. Apparently the meeting did not go very well, even though the administration's proposals seem geared to weakening the Lieberman-Warner bill.
The Bush administration has been a staunch opponent of a mandatory so-called "cap-and-trade" approach to reducing greenhouse gases, preferring largely voluntary measures to broadly address global warming.

"We aren't necessarily against cap-and-trade proposals," Perino said Monday, but she added quickly, "What we've seen so far from Congress is not something that we can support."

The Senate is expected in June to begin debate on legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va., that would cap greenhouse gas emissions from most sources and allow polluters to purchase emission permits instead of making actual reductions. It is designed to cut emissions 70 percent by mid-century. The House also is planning to draft climate legislation soon.

Among the proposals floated by the administration at the meeting last week was one that would limit the emissions cap to electric power plants, while also allowing a "safety valve" if the cost is found to be too high. The Senate bill has no such escape valve and covers emissions almost across the economy.
Whether anything will end up passing this year remains to be seen. Adding those exceptions to the current bill would probably kill it since there is a substantial block of legislators who want no regulation at all. Another block would want something much stronger than this. A weak bill will please neither (see update) and punt reform to 2009.

Reactions in the blogosphere have ranged from the skeptical to the incredulous.

U[pdate(4/16): Gristmill has the rundown on Bush's climate change speech. It's the same as usual - a mix of delaying tactics.