Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) finally introduced climate change legislation on 30 September 2009, weeks after the anticipated release. Similar to HR 2454, legislation passed by the House of Representatives in June, the Kerry-Boxer bill (S 1733) would seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency, promote renewable energy, transition to a green economy, and adapt to the impacts of climate change. One notable difference between the Waxman-Markey and Kerry-Boxer is the short-term target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The House bill would require a reduction of 17 percent below 2005 emissions by 2020, whereas the Senate bill would require a 20 percent reduction. Although the Senate target was sought by many environmental groups, the political reality of passing the stricter standard in the Senate is uncertain. Some moderate Democrats have already denounced the more ambitious goal, including Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). “Requiring 20 percent emission reductions by 2020 is unrealistic and harmful,” Rockefeller said. “It is simply not enough time to deploy the carbon capture and storage and energy efficiency technologies we need. Period.”

The Senate bill does attempt to avoid some of the challenges experienced by the House bill. Senator Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was quick to point out that S. 1733 “does not raise the federal deficit by one single dime.” She also announced plans to offset rising energy costs for consumers by allocating 70 percent of initial greenhouse gas emission allowances to this cause. Despite these proactive measures, certain provisions in the bill are expected to generate vigorous debate. The use of carbon offsets and emission allocations are likely to be contentious provisions in the Senate.

For science, the House and Senate bills lay out very similar provisions. Both bills would create a National Climate Service to serve as a central clearinghouse of climate data and models for end users. The Senate bill would establish this new program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, while the House bill would allow the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to decide where the program should reside.

The bills would also establish a Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Panel, consisting of the heads of all natural resource agencies. This panel would create a national adaptation strategy for our nation’s natural resources. Federal agencies would be required to implement this strategy by helping natural resources “to become more resilient, adapt to, and withstand the ongoing and expected impacts of climate change” and ocean acidification. The Senate bill is slightly stronger than the House bill, requiring agencies to plan for drought, flooding, and wildfire related to climate change. States would also develop natural resource adaptation plans, which would be eligible for federal funding generated by emission allocations auctions.

Several provisions in the legislation are directed specifically at helping wildlife adapt to climate change. Like the House bill, the Senate bill would establish a National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center within the United States Geological Survey. The Center would be responsible for conducting climate impact research and providing technical assistance to federal and state agencies. Additionally, both bills would create a National Fish and Wildlife Habitat and Corridors Information Program to help states develop GIS databases of fish and wildlife habitats and corridors.

The Senate climate bill faces an uphill battle, as several Senate Committees plan on crafting climate provisions in a process similar to that used to develop health care legislation. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is still planning on marking up key components of climate legislation in his committee, including emissions allowance allocations and international trade. The Agriculture and Commerce Committees are reported to be working on legislative language which could be added to either the Boxer or Baucus bills. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Kerry-Boxer bill, has announced that they will “mark-up” the legislation in early November.

In a significant development on the climate change legislation front, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (R) has broken ranks with the GOP. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Graham and Kerry wrote: “We refuse to accept the argument that the United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate change. We are also convinced that we have found both a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future.”


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