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Climate Control Bill Could Move Quickly

After their electoral sweep in 2006, Democratic congressional leaders reorganized things to better maneuver environmental legislation — and, so far, it’s working.

“It’s a miracle,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Boxer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both California Democrats, shuffled their respective jurisdictions.

On the Senate side, the climate change bill that Boxer shepherded through her Senate Environment and Public Works Committee may be getting floor action sooner than first envisioned.

Boxer said Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to bring it to the floor “before the May break.” Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley, said that the leader is “still working on the schedule.”

In the House, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a strong supporter of the auto industry, was thought to be standing in the way of vehicle fuel-efficiency legislation, the so-called corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards.

So Pelosi created the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming and installed a liberal ally, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), as chairman. And it was immediately taken as a signal to Dingell that Pelosi was serious about moving environmental legislation. 

The two efforts were made entirely independently. “I didn’t speak with Pelosi,” Boxer said of her fellow Bay Area lawmaker. “I don’t get in these issues of House/Senate. I don’t coordinate. I just do what I need to do.”

To give the climate change bill the clearest path, Boxer put both co-sponsors — Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) — on a panel with jurisdiction over global warming, the Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection.

If Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, could keep the Democrats in line, the bill could get through. But climate change legislation is tough stuff: A move toward industry loses Greens, and a move to the left can doom the bill later. 

“We wanted to get the right people in the right places,” Boxer said. 

Before the subcommittee vote, Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who also caucuses with Democrats, both expressed reservations from the left with the Lieberman-Warner bill. 

“I had to work very, very hard to help Lieberman and Warner get it out of subcommittee,” Boxer said. “And when I say I, I mean my whole staff and outside groups working together every step of the way.”
Sanders voted no, but Lautenberg gave it the yes it needed to move through.

On the House side, Markey said the speaker’s goals for the 110th Congress included an energy bill with increased CAFE standards and a climate change bill. The energy bill is law.

A top House aide said that there is “consensus among leadership that there is a good chance” a climate change bill will pass in 2008, partly because industry — worried about getting a tougher bill in 2009 — is getting behind it. 

“I don’t think many experts predicted that such a significant bill would be signed by the president by the middle of December in 2007, but it happened,” Markey said. “There are now many experts predicting that no climate change — no mandatory cap and auction and trade bill can be passed and signed by the president in 2008. I do not share that view.”

Markey’s committee was given no power to mark up language but played a more symbolic role, holding dozens of hearings on climate change and its relationship to national security and other issues. When a House climate change bill comes through, however, it will still most likely have to go through Dingell’s committee.

“The good news is, at the bill signing at the White House, we werestanding next to each other smiling and congratulating each other,” Markey recalled. Drew Hammill, an aide to Pelosi, said the speaker “looks forward to working with Chairman Dingell and his committee to move forward as soon as possible.”

Boxer’s shake-up did affect where legislation traveled. While cutting the private-sector piece of the pie and serving it to Lieberman, she kept the public-sector slice, making herself chairman — and she does go by “Chairman” — of the Subcommittee on Public Sector Solutions to Global Warming, Oversight and Children’s Health Protection.

“I don’t think that Inhofe was very happy about it, but my colleagues really liked it,” Boxer said, referring to the ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, with whom she often clashes.
The realignment may have helped move the bill through committee, but it still faces serious hurdles.

Environmental groups on the left have recently stepped up attacks, with Friends of the Earth launching a “Fix It or Ditch It” campaign, backed Tuesday by a letter from Greenpeace.

The liberal blogosphere has also set upon the bill, calling it a giveaway to coal companies. The more moderate Environmental Defense responded by sending a letter to Boxer suggesting she take out ads on the blogs and offering to broker a truce of sorts.

But the letter leaked, only further infuriating the bloggers, many of whom would like to see the bill killed and brought up again under a Democratic president.

On Tuesday, Boxer said she sympathized with that position, depending on what kind of bill could pass.
“Clearly, we’re not going to allow a weakened bill to go through,” she said. “It’s got to be a strong bill, and I know Sen. Reid feels the same way.”