Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Senate Debate vs. House Debate

Posted by Danny Morris on July 9, 2009

The beauty of writing for two blogs is you get to post the same thing twice and you get double the credit for it, or something like that. This post originally appeared on Weathervane, RFF’s fancy and informative climate blog:

How will the Senate Climate Debate Differ from the House Debate?

By Daniel F. Morris

The climate debate kicked off in the Senate this week with the Obama administration encouraging senators to pass legislation comparable to H.R. 2454, the mammoth bill that passed by a vote of 219-212 last month. In testimony given to the Environment and Public Works Committee, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson all urged the Senate not to slow the momentum behind the passage of the House bill.

The formation of the Senate bill and the debate surrounding it will be significantly different from the experience in the House. First, a huge component of the Senate strategy will involve wrangling 60 votes to block a potential filibuster, which will probably require more compromises to accommodate Midwestern Democrats who currently feel compelled to oppose the bill. Concessions may involve the stringency of the cap in the early years of a cap-and-trade market (14% reduction of 2005 emissions by 2020 instead of 17%), allowance allocations given away to energy-sensitive industries, especially coal, oil, and manufacturing, and the role of nuclear power in the nation’s future energy portfolio.

Second, the bill will receive much more scrutiny at the committee level than the House bill received. H.R. 2454 was fully marked up only by the Energy and Commerce Committee. Input from other committees, like Ways and Means and Agriculture, were included in a manager’s amendment inserted during floor debate. In contrast, the lead for drawing up the Senate bill will be Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in the Environment and Public Works Committee, but the legislation will ultimately include pieces constructed by at least five other committees, including, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Natural Resources, Finance, and Foreign Relations. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has tentatively slated a deadline for the bill to clear the committees of Sept. 28, so September will be a hectic month. Boxer is indicating she wants to wait until after the August recess to take up any climate bill.

Aside from dynamics distinct to the Senate, there are a number of specific issues that may develop disparately from the House debate. Some of the prominent topics are:

  • Price collar: H.R. 2454 established a minimum carbon price (or price floor) of $10, but did not include a matching maximum price. The strategic reserve auction mechanism (Sec. 726) protects much more against extreme price volatility than consistently high allowance prices. In the interest of protecting regulated industries and reducing overall costs of the entire program, the Senate will likely take a much closer look at employing a price collar that sets both a minimum and maximum price for emissions allowances. Previous studies conducted by RFF scholars, one by Dallas Burtraw and Karen Palmer and another by Harrison Fell and Richard Morgenstern show that use of a price collar can reduce the total costs of implementing a cap-and-trade system.
  • Competitiveness: President Obama expressed some dismay about the last-minute addition of protectionist language (Sec. 3) included in H.R. 2454 targeting imports from emerging economies that do not take on similar emissions reductions. Language in the bill explicitly names China and India as countries that deserve scrutiny. Those concerned that such language will lead to conflict in future climate negotiations with the two countries see the Senate as the place to scrub the inflammatory verbiage. Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) has already stated that he and others in the committee intend to make changes in the hopes of avoiding retaliatory measures from India and China. Midwest Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), however, have expressed support for the provisions and disagree with the President’s assessment. The matter will no doubt receive considerable attention from both the Foreign Relations and Finance committees.
  • Market Regulation: Both chambers want to see stringent regulations for the potentially huge carbon trading markets to come out of cap-and-trade measures. H.R. 2454 split responsibility for oversight between the Commodity Future Trading Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) experience with FERC during California’s deregulation woes of the early part of the decade have led to her strong distrust of the agency, and she has introduced a bill giving CFTC full authority for regulating carbon markets. This debate may continue to evolve as the Senate bill begins to take shape.
  • Agriculture: In the House debate, powerful agriculture concerns found voice in Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), who had a major influence over the final version of the bill, including a provision that give authority to the Dept. of Agriculture to determine what constitutes domestic forestry and agriculture offsets. Many farm groups lined up against the House bill after its passage and their influence could spell doom for Senate passage. Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) has already expressed his dissatisfaction with the House bill and intends to protect agriculture and farmers. Expect agriculture to play an even bigger role in the Senate debate.

Undoubtedly, other issues will surface over the summer as committees begin drafting separate pieces. The Senate has somewhat of a head start in that a major energy provision has already been shepherded through committee by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).

The path to President Obama signing climate and energy legislation is far from clear, however. The Senate bill must navigate skeptical and apprehensive Midwest Senators, substantial efforts from environmental groups to strengthen it, and ardent opposition from many in the Republican minority. Even though the Fourth of July was last weekend, it appears that we can look forward to plenty of fireworks for the rest of the summer.

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4 Responses to “Senate Debate vs. House Debate”

  1. dWj said

    They don’t think this is enough of a sop to agriculture? Too much is never enough for these guys.

    (Incidentally, I was born four hours after Harkin’s daughter, and in the same hospital.)

  2. Danny Morris said

    DWj,

    brace yourself. According to an article i read this morning, Harkin said he wants everything Peterson got and probably more. one clear lesson from following all this climate legislation: ag interests are only slightly less powerful than the stone masons and the skull and bones society, but just as frightening.

  3. [...] figure that will buy time to get the contentious issues right, in Grist. Common Tragedies explores four big areas where the Senate debate could be different from that in the [...]

  4. [...] Four ways a Senate climate bill could differ from the House version—including a price [...]

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