Years after President Bush torpedoed the Kyoto global warming treaty, he is expected to outline principles this afternoon for passing legislation to reduce carbon emissions, but it’s unclear how much support he will find among Congressional Republicans.
The bid to pass global warming legislation this year is driven in part by a Supreme Court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency has to address the issue, and the recent agency announcement that it was beginning its rule-making process. Some industry groups would rather cut a deal that they can live with this year with Bush in the loop that removes the threat of an EPA fiat in 2009 or 2010, when a President McCain, Clinton or Obama would be in the White House and perhaps interested in more sweeping plans.
All three presidential candidates back versions of a cap-and-trade system for cutting carbon dioxide emissions to reduce global warming.
The GOP appears to be splintering into various camps on the issue, with Republicans such as House Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton (Texas) and Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe (Okla.) questioning whether global warming exists.
Another camp, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and John Warner (Va.), argues that the issue is real and must be addressed head-on. Others are willing to consider some legislation but are wary that a bill could spin out of control and damage the economy.
“There is a lot we need to study and look at before we sign on to anything,” said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), ranking member of the Budget Committee.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged that members of his party are of different minds on the issue and took a wait-and-see approach to the president’s plan.
But Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said he hoped Republicans coalesce around a realistic, limited proposal to cap carbon emissions.
“We need an ambitious, bold agenda on climate change, clean air, energy prices,” Alexander said. “We Republicans need to do a better job of saying what we’re for.”
Alexander said the sweeping Warner-Lieberman cap-and-trade legislation that is expected to hit the Senate floor gives Republicans “an opportunity a mile wide” to propose a more realistic and limited plan.
“I don’t expect Congress to pass the Warner-Lieberman bill,” he said, arguing that it is too complicated and could fall of its own weight.
Alexander said global warming needs to be taken piece by piece — or face the same fate of the immigration bill last year.
“In immigration we bit off more than we could chew and got nothing,” he said. “The Senate doesn’t do comprehensive very well.”
Alexander said he backed starting with a cap-and-trade system for power plants, which already have cap-and-trade systems for other pollutants.
“I would not apply cap and trade to the whole economy. There are too many surprises” and potential risks, he said.
House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) said it makes sense for Bush to come to the table. “I’m sure that there are pockets of nervousness out there, but the bottom line is all three presidential candidates have said they will put forward a plan on climate change and Pelosi and Reid have said it is a priority for them. The issue is out there.”
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has had conversations with the administration officials but said he doesn’t know what the president will propose.
“I think it’s fine for the president to lay out the principles,” Blunt said. “Let’s see what the president proposes and then we’ll see.”
Democrats are taking a cautious attitude, while getting in a few digs about Bush being a Johnny-come-lately.
“The Speaker and I and the Democratic leadership all believe that global warming is a critical problem,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “We need to address it. Essentially, for seven years this administration has ignored it. Now they are talking about a proposal as they have seven months or thereabouts left to go in this administration. It is never too late to recognize the right thing to do.”
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) isn’t expecting much.
“I haven’t seen any indication from this administration that they want to pass anything to cut carbon emissions,” Waxman said. “They don’t have a good record.”
Even if Bush wants to cut a deal, “it seems to be unlikely to get something done this late in the year,” he said.
Waxman said he is more focused on what the next administration might do on the issue but is keeping an open mind about passing something this year.
“My view is if you’ve got a good bill, you take it, regardless of who the president is,” he said.