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Federal Climate Policy in 2010: From Copenhagen to Congress

by Art von Lehe, ICLEI USA Policy Analyst Jan 19, 2010

Capital in Washington, D.C.

2010 promises to be another year of heated climate debate in Washington. The Copenhagen Accord (see our initial analysis) – the resulting agreement from the UN Climate Conference where ICLEI’s climate lounge received major media attention – will have some blanks filled in regarding national commitments on GHG reduction targets. The Accord calls for countries to provide emissions targets reduction goals by January 31, and the US targets are expected to be in line with the climate bills currently moving through Congress. 

The progress in Congress on climate and energy legislation, combined with existing authority for the EPA to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act, provided President Obama with the political capital needed to negotiate with other nations in Copenhagen.  Both of these domestic developments are expected to be subjects of much political wrangling in 2010.

Climate Legislation

This week’s election in Massachusetts brings uncertainty to the outcome for climate legislation; as Republican Senator-Elect Scott Brown’s stance on greenhouse gas pollution regulation has varied throughout his political career.  His fellow Senator from Massachusetts, Democrat John Kerry has been a steadfast leader in the climate debate for many years. Many localities have expressed tremendous interest in seeing climate legislation pass at the federal level – given the jobs creation, economic development, and funding opportunities outlined for local governments in the bills. 

Last year brought H.R. 2454 (see our analysis) passed on the floor of the House and S. 1733 (see our analysis) passed in Senate committee. Both bills provide insight in to what the final Senate version may look like, which is now being crafted by the tri-partisan group of Senators including John Kerry, Republican Lindsey Graham and Independent Joseph Lieberman. Please follow this link to ICLEI’s analysis of the Senate outline for the climate and energy bill and what it may mean for local governments.

EPA Authority

Given the complexity surrounding climate legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency serves as a backstop for regulating global warming pollution in the event the Senate fails in passing a bill.  The EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate GHGs was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2007 in the landmark case “Massachusetts v. EPA.”  Exercising this authority, President Obama has directed EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to move towards crafting regulations for greenhouse gas pollution, starting first with tailpipes – an agency action that would then trigger further regulations for smokestacks and other “stationary sources.”

Opposition to EPA authority is mounting in Congress, most recently headed up by the Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska who intends to stop the EPA from addressing global warming pollution. At the time of the writing of this article, Senator Murkowski is considering action to: either propose an amendment to block the EPA’s ability to regulate GHGs for one year; or to sponsor a “resolution of disapproval” which could overturn the EPA’s recent finding that global warming pollution threatens human health and the environment. Senator Murkowski is also considering a third option – forcing a premature up or down vote on the concept of cap and trade before many Senators have had a chance to address their concerns with the legislation.

Jobs and Livability

Before the climate bill reaches a vote, the Senate plans to turn its attention to the economy following up on the House of Representatives’ narrowly-passed H.R. 2847, known as “The Jobs Bill,” totaling $174 billion. Similar to other recent economic stimulus bills, the jobs bill would have implications for local governments as it would allocate funds for: highway construction, urban and rural transit programs, clean water initiatives, renewable energy deployment, environmental restoration, and clean drinking water programs. 

The transportation bill is expected to be on the agenda for 2010 in Congress as well. On the administrative side, Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood recently proposed new funding guidelines for major transportation projects that would include livability standards such as economic development and environmental benefits including carbon reduction. The new rules will change the way public transportation dollars are awarded, by adding new criteria to the already existing time saved and total costs assessments.

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Capital Corner: Latest Federal Updates

by Art von Lehe, ICLEI Policy Analyst Oct 12, 2009

Capital in Washington, D.C.

Capital Corner is ICLEI's regular update on federal climate and energy policy, viewed through the local government lens.

Local Governments Recognized by the Senate

The past couple of weeks have been very interesting for climate action.  The Senate released a draft bill which formally recognized local governments, in contrast to the House-passed bill from this summer. 

Click here for ICLEI’s initial impressions of the Senate draft climate bill and stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis.

Surprises from Norway to South Carolina

President Obama awoke last week to find out he had become a Nobel Laureate, in part for his commitment to combating climate change, as the press release from the Nobel Prize Committee stated: “Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting.”

Another surprise came from my home state of South Carolina. Senator Lindsey Graham wrote an op-ed in the New York Times with Senator John Kerry to promote a bipartisan approach to addressing climate change.

An excerpt from this potentially game changing piece: “This process requires honest give-and-take and genuine bipartisanship. In that spirit, we have come together to put forward proposals that address legitimate concerns among Democrats and Republicans and the other constituencies with stakes in this legislation. We’re looking for a new beginning, informed by the work of our colleagues and legislation that is already before Congress.”

All of these developments give us reason to hope for meaningful action at the national and international levels before we close out 2009.

  • Click here to read the complete press release from the Nobel Committee.
  • Senators Graham and Kerry’s full op-ed can be found here.
  • Read the Reuters article about the hope for climate progress


1,000 Mayors Can’t Be Wrong

On October 2, Mayor Greg Nickels announced that there are now 1,000 mayors who have pledged to reduce GHGs in line with the targets set out in the Kyoto Protocol.  This historic event reflects the tremendous upwelling of climate action which has moved from the bottom up – from the local level to the national and even international.  This chorus of US mayors has agreed to meet emissions targets that have been rejected by the federal government.  This historic number of 1,000 mayors was reached at an unprecedented time in history as domestic and international policy for climate action is being crafted at the very moment that United Nations Environment Program reported that we are coming closer and closer to crossing profoundly dangerous thresholds with regards to GHG emissions. 

Recently, Neil Pierce of wrote an opinion piece that showcases this bottom up momentum regarding the negotiations leading up to the next international climate – mentioning ICLEI’s role in advocating for increased support and recognition of local governments in the next international treaty.

  • For more information on the 1,000 mayors, read this article in the Seattle Times.
  • For more information on the current state of the climate, please see this UNEP report.
  • To read Neal Pierce’s piece, please click here.
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The Senate, the Chamber, and Spies…Oh My!

by Art von Lehe, ICLEI Policy Analyst Sep 28, 2009

Capital in Washington, D.C.

Capital Corner is ICLEI's regular update on federal climate and energy policy, viewed through the local government lens.

Senate Enters the Climate Policy Fray

The long awaited draft version of the Senate climate bill, co-sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA and John Kerry (D-MA), is scheduled to be released today (9/30/09) in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  The bill is long awaited and has been delayed repeatedly as the Senate works through multiple major legislative agendas.  While the emissions targets are expected to be more ambitious than those found in the House version, some key provisions are expected to be left blank, such as the distribution of “allowances,” funding that would be derived from the greenhouse gas regulation “cap and trade” program.  The distribution of these allowances will be of great interest to local governments, as many of the clean energy provisions and programs are funded through this source in the House version of the bill that passed earlier this summer.  Markup of the bill is expected to take place in early October.  ICLEI will continue to track these legislative developments looking at the local government relevance of federal climate legislation.

For more information, read:


Corporations Walk the Walk on Climate Legislation

Leading up to the Senate’s potential consideration of climate legislation, five major industrial firms have recently withdrawn membership from larger alliances citing differences on climate change legislation. Duke Energy and Alstom Power, a French company that makes power plant parts, both have walked from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity claiming the group is in active opposition to passing comprehensive federal climate legislation.  The Chamber of Commerce is losing some leading members as well. Three major utilities – PG&E Corp based in California, PNM Resources Inc. in New Mexico, and Chicago-based Exelon Corp. – have walked citing the Chamber’s stance on climate change legislation.

For more information, read:


International Discussions on U.S. Turf

At recent U.N. General Assembly talks in New York, President Obama gave a speech on climate change discussing broad themes of global cooperation. China’s President Hu Jintao announced China’s pledge to address carbon through intensity targets (which measures carbon emissions by the nation’s economy). The announcement from China was well received by some in the Senate, as China is often cited as a reason for domestic inaction.

Many leaders went directly from the summit in NY to the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh where hopes to come to agreement on critical financing issues were tabled for November. Both meetings were accompanied by rallies and protests from environmental groups.  Both the UN meeting and the G20 meeting were followed up this week by further talks in Bangkok leading up to the international negotiations to be held in Copenhagen.

Local governments are being represented at these talks by ICLEI and other partners, helping localities effectively advocate for a strong agreement in and for provisions that will empower local governments to realize even further emissions reductions.

For more information, read:


CIA Operatives Stake Out Global Warming

According to a recent United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report, climate change is accelerating at a profoundly disturbing rate. UNEP now believes that global temperatures will rise 6.3 degrees F by 2100 and now projects a rise in sea level up to 6 feet by 2100. The report came just 75 days before the international climate negotiations are to be held in Copenhagen, underscoring the importance of progress at those talks.

Increasingly climate change is considered an issue of national security, and the Central Intelligence Agency has taken notice. Recently the CIA announced the launch of The Center on Climate Change and National Security to be tasked with gathering knowledge and providing insight on the national security implications of climate impacts including rising sea levels, desertification, and heightened competition for natural resources. The security risks associated with climate change further highlight the importance of the local government actions resulting in greenhouse gas reductions.

For more information, read:
Environment News Service's article on rapid climate change acceleration
The CIA's press release on its Center on Climate Change and National Security

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Glacial Pacing in the Halls of Congress

by Art von Lehe, ICLEI Policy Analyst Aug 30, 2009

Capital in Washington, D.C.

Capital Corner is ICLEI's regular update on federal climate and energy policy, viewed through the local government lens.

September is finally here, which means the end of a long recess for Congress. Senate staffers have been hard at work quietly drafting the beginnings of a bill in anticipation of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s timeline of September 28. That date certain is no longer. On Monday, a spokesperson for Reid explained that the Senator “fully expects the Senate to have ample time to consider this comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation before the end of the year,” as reported by Reuters. Senators Kerry and Boxer, who are currently crafting a bill which was expected to be unveiled on Sept. 8 in Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee, have set the date back to later in the month citing the Senate’s work on health care, the passing of Senator Kennedy, and Senator Kerry’s recent hip surgery. This marks the second time climate legislation has been postponed in the Senate this summer, and could perhaps make the climb to 60 votes for passage even more difficult.

However, the EPA has stated its intention to declared C02 a "dangerous pollutant" in the near future, a move that could push the climate bill forward. Related to this announcement, EPA recently sent a draft rule to the White House that would effectively regulate the same entities that Waxman-Markey sets out to cover -- large industrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions. This threat of regulation was one of the motivating factors for industry to come to the table as the House drafted Waxman-Markey and may perhaps have the same effect on the senate side.

Yes We Cap (and Trade, Perhaps)

The majority of Americans support President Obama’s plan for energy and climate, this includes his plans to sign off on cap and trade legislation, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that counterbalances the President’s eroding support for health-care proposals. Conducted Aug. 13-17th, to the poll found 55 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of energy issues with 52 percent of Americans back a cap-and-trade scheme.

Meanwhile, the struggle over climate legislation has been playing out across the country despite the overwhelming interest in the health care debate. In opposition to climate change legislation, some industry groups have become engaged in what many criticize as theatre, waging a grassroots style campaign that so far has seemingly outpaced the efforts of environmentalists – as outlined in a recent leading Washington Post article.

Another layer of complexity surrounding climate legislation exists where it matters most - in Congress. While the House vote for Waxman Markey represented a paper thin margin, the Senate poses an even more difficult equation for federal climate legislation passage. The steep climb to 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster is proving to be a daunting task for proponents of the bill. Democrats are not aligned and efforts to bridge differences between colleagues across the political divide are being made. The rocky landscape in the Senate is described well in this recent Slate article and in even more detail in this regularly updated analysis of each Senator’s position as compiled by E&E News.

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