It's official: climate legislation has zero chance of passing before the big summit in Copenhagen this December. Many observers have assumed this for a while, though some (myself included) were hanging on to a shred of hope that senators could produce something in time for the meeting. But on Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a full run of studies after he combines the various components of climate and energy legislation into a single bill. The EPA says this process will take about five weeks. Copenhagen kicks off on Dec. 7, just 32 days from now.
If the Environment and Public Works committee (EPW) could approve a bill before Copenhagen, that would be better than nothing. But right now even that prospect looks dicey, since Republicans are boycotting the markup. The committee's head, Sen. Barbara Boxer, could technically forge ahead without them, since the chair pretty much gets to set the rules. And with a 12-7 Democratic majority, she doesn't actually need Republican votes to pass a bill. But some worry that this approach would widen the partisan divide over the issue, giving moderate Republicans and Democrats in the wider Senate yet another excuse to vote against the measure.
But even if Boxer's committee does pass the bill, several other panels still need to weigh in before the legislation is ready for EPA review and then a vote in the full Senate. Only Energy and Natural Resources has passed its component so far. Finance, Agriculture, and possibly Commerce could stake a claim—and none have even scheduled any markups yet. Now Commerce chair Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is arguing that his panel should wait to do so until after the 2010 midterm elections. Without the urgency imposed by the Copenhagen deadline, any little momentum that the climate bill had could disappear very fast.