Boxer and Kerry Eschew Talk of Cap and Trade in Climate Bill Rollout

| Wed Sep. 30, 2009 5:14 PM EDT

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) officially rolled out their climate bill on Wednesday, with a large rally on the Capitol lawn. But noticeably missing from both the bill and their rhetoric was any reference to cap and trade. Instead, they're calling it a "Global Warming Pollution Reduction and Investment" program -- and they're promoting the energy and national security benefits rather than the emissions reductions goals.

"This is the beginning of one of the most important battles we will ever face, as legislators and as citizens," said Kerry, who was flanked by military officers and backed by a giant American flag. Climate change, he said, will act as a "lit match on the kindling of an already dangerous world," and energy dependence means American money is going to "jihadists, terrorists in different countries."

"We know clean energy is the ticket to strong, sustainable economic growth," said Boxer.

The senators touted the bill's provisions to expand the use of natural gas and nuclear power, two major changes from the Waxman-Markey legislation passed by the House in June. While the House bill would also likely spur development of those energy sources, the Senate bill includes titles specifying how they would be expanded. The senators also stressed that the bill includes a good deal of support for the development of controversial "clean" coal technology.

"It recognizes that there is is no one silver bullet that is going to solve this problem," said Kerry.

Their full bill, weighing in at 821 pages, closely mirrors the various leaked drafts that were circulating yesterday, and, in most respects, Waxman-Markey. It aims to reduce emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, and will cover approximately 7,500 major emissions sources around the country.

Notable differences with the House bill include the explicit support for nuclear and natural gas, as well as limits on the price of pollution permits—which Boxer is calling "a soft collar." To reduce price volatility, it puts in place a lower limit of $11 per credit and an initial upper limit of $28, which would trigger the release of additional reserve allowances. The portions of the bill on allocation of permits and use of the revenue that their sale generates remain blank, however, and are expected to be hotly contested as the debate moves forward. The Finance, Agriculture, Commerce, and Foreign Relations committees are expected to play a role in shaping those and other provisions.

 

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Nine other Democratic senators and one independent were present for the event: Ben Cardin (Md.), Kristin Gillibrand (N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), and Bernie Sanders (Vt.).

There was no support for the measure from Republican senators at the unveiling, though Boxer read letters from Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter (Pa.), who expressed general support for climate legislation but some concerns about certain provisions of the draft, and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who cosponsored legislation on climate in 2003, 2005, and 2008.

Kerry indicated that he believes they will get some Republican support for the bill in the weeks to come. "I'm convinced there are a number of Republicans who want to get this done and we're going to continue to work with them," he told reporters.

A Boxer aide said that the committee will likely begin marking up legislation in mid-October, with the goal of wrapping it up by the end of the month. Boxer's committee includes a large proportion of Democrats who are strongly in favor of passing a climate bill this year—nine of the 12 Democrats on the panel were present for the release today. The bill is expected to pass her committee with little problem, but the real challenge will be the Senate floor, and whether it even makes it there this year.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-N.M.) bolstered hopes on that front on Tuesday when he indicated that floor action is still on his agenda this year. Responding to a reporter's inquiry about whether the Senate is on track to pass the bill before December's climate treaty negotiations, Reid gave a simple, "Yup."

Kerry acknowledged that their climate bill won't move until after the Senate finishes the equally contentious debate on health care policy, but said that he remains optimistic that they can pass the bill before the Copenhagen talks. "Obviously that's subject to the schedule on health care. But I think we're going to make it," he said.

Both Kerry and Boxer acknowledged that while they've put in significant progress in the debate to even get the draft to this point, there's still a lot of work ahead as they work to craft a final bill.

"This is like giving birth again," remarked Boxer.

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