Will US Lawmakers Pass A Climate Action Bill Before Copenhagen?

Can Congress pass climate change legislation before the Copenhagen meeting this December?A source close to the US lawmakers involved with new climate change legislation says that despite President Barack Obama’s impassioned plea for swift action on global warming, it’s likely that a cap and trade law won’t see light of day this year. Why? It might not be in the tactical interest of the US President to push too hard for a bill this year.

“The president appeared to be careful to ask for a bill this Congress, not for a bill this year,” said Michael Levi, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

He explained that although there clearly is support for a cap and trade bill in the House, the issue will be much more difficult in the Senate. Democrats from manufacturing states and rural, coal-rich regions wield considerable influence in the Senate.

If things turned sour ahead of a landmark meeting of international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, it would be truly embarrassing for the US. Naysayers and climate skeptics are already reticent about various energy initiatives. And representatives from the coal-producing states are especially loath to participate in projects that they believe negatively affects their home constituency.

“It would be very embarrassing for the president to try and fail in advance of Copenhagen,” said Levy, adding that everybody in the international community expects the new US administration to take a leading role in the combat of climate change.

A conflicting view was asserted a few days later, when the top U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern, urged Congress to speed up greenhouse-gas emissions regulations ahead of the December meeting in Copenhagen. Stern said if the US swiftly adopted legislation, this would be “a powerful signal” to other countries.

“Mr. Stern’s comments are the latest sign of the Obama administration’s eagerness to pass legislation this year that would for the first time cap U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions”, according to Stephen Power, the Wall Street Journal reporter who interviewed Stern.

But even Stern admitted that it’s “an extremely tall order,” to see a climate change bill passed this year. Yet, he said that “nothing would give a more powerful signal to other countries than to see a significant, major, mandatory plan”.

Obama wants to additionally create financial incentives for non-polluters. He said there’s a need to “truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change.”

The conflicting views are not a case of the (way more dangerous) polarization that is already visible in policymaking circles, including the US Senate Committee on the Environment , between climate change campaigners and “skeptics”.

The international community itself has also urged US policymakers to make sure legislation is signed before December. A group of foreign dignitaries visited Washington a few days ago, attempting to build momentum ahead of the Copenhagen talks. The dignitaries made repeated calls for speedy action. “The deadline set — 2009 — is actually set also by the former Bush administration. It is not just Denmark or Europe or somebody who set that deadline. It is set also by the United States. We must deliver on that deadline and I can see no better alternative than having cap and trade,” said the Danish minister for climate and energy, Connie Hedegaard.

President Obama’s goal is to reduce U.S. emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and by roughly 80% by 2050 (compared to 2005 levels).

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