Senate Takes a Step Back on Energy

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is relaxing the timeline for climate change and energy legislation, a reflection of the challenge Congress will have meeting its own deadlines.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, pushed back the deadline for the measure to Sept. 28, giving 10 extra days to the six different committees working on climate change and energy policy, ClimateWire reported.

With health care legislation still in development and Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings about to begin next week, the Senate will likely have little time for energy policy this summer.

The House of Representatives last month passed a comprehensive bill that creates a cap and trade system for polluting emissions, but the Senate is very unlikely to accept the legislation as the House prepared it. The Senate is likely to change a provision that imposes a tariff on certain goods from countries that are not also limiting their own global warming emissions. President Obama has said he opposes the tariff as well.

Furthermore, even though the House made a number of concessions to polluting industries -- agreeing to give away as much as 85 percent of the cap and trade permits to companies, rather than putting them up for auction -- moderate Senate Democrats like Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) say the price on carbon is still too extreme.

"I'm going to make people, my friends on the left, very unhappy and I'm going to make those who don't think global warming is real very unhappy because I'm probably going to be working with a group of moderates in the middle to try to come up with a bill that doesn't punish coal-dependent states like Missouri," McCaskill said Wednesday on a radio show. "We need to be a leader in the world, but we don't want to be a sucker. And if we go too far with this, all we're going to do is chase more jobs to China and India, where they've been putting up coal-fired plants every ten minutes."

Given the complexity of the issue (the House bill is more than 1,000 pages long), it is unclear what ultimate impact the congressional horsetrading could have on the effectiveness of the bill. Many on the left are already frustrated at the concessions that have been made -- Greenpeace, for instance, does not support the House bill.

Meanwhile, other outside mitigating factors could hang up Congress' plans as well. One complex issue Congress has considered is the funding of transmission line development across the United States to carry clean energy produced in the midwest and other sparsely-populated areas to locations in need of the energy. The lack of transmission lines -- along with the collapse of the capital markets -- prompted billionaire oilman and clean energy advocate T. Boone Pickens to scrap his plans to build the world's largest wind farm in Texas.

If progress is not made in Washington, however, it could significantly impact international efforts to combat global warming. The world will be watching the United States' moves ahead of the United Nations climate change conference to take place in Copenhagen in December.

"The idea was to put together a bill that gets 60 votes before the meeting in Copenhagen," Reid's spokesman Jim Manley told reporters Wednesday, according to ClimateWire.