Too many Senators are more concerned about short-term oil and coal profits



For the record, the Senate has addressed a number of major problems facing our country in the 111th Congress: Health care reform. Financial system reform. The economy. The Afghan war. A new Supreme Court justice. But the House of Representatives addressed all those problems (except for the justice, where it lacks responsibility), and also carved out time last year to craft and adopt a comprehensive climate and energy bill. The House left ample time for the Senate to write its own version and then for the two chambers to work out a compromise and send it to the president before this year’s congressional session ends. The Senate’s outdated rules that prevent a majority of the chamber from acting in the national interest were a big part of the Senate’s failure to act. But it is inescapable that the underlying problem is that too many senators put the oil and coal industries’ near-term financial considerations ahead of their constituents’ health, security and economic future.

In theory, the Senate still has time to enact a bill this session before adjourning for the fall elections, but the prospects are dim. During the August recess, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and other Senate climate champions may continue negotiations with some electric utilities and moderate senators to try to reach agreement on legislation that would require utilities to reduce their global warming emissions. If they can craft legislation that could garner 60 votes, the Senate could conceivably pass the bill in September. The Senate also should vote on a national renewable electricity standard that would set national requirements for increasing the use of renewable energy sources by the electric utility industry. A House-Senate conference committee would then have a shot at reconciling the Senate provisions with the House energy and climate bill that passed in June 2009.

If the Senate fails to act this fall -- as is expected -- it is paramount that the Environmental Protection Agency proceed with its plan to limit heat-trapping emissions from the electric-generation, transportation, industrial and agricultural sectors. Fortunately, efforts to thwart the agency from carrying out its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act thus far have failed. Majorities in both the Senate and House, with the support of many in the public health, medical, and business communities, must continue to fend off misguided congressional efforts to prevent the EPA from fulfilling its responsibilities under the law to set pollution standards sufficient to protect the lives and health of Americans.

In addition, the administration should move forward to set strong new global warming emission standards for new cars and trucks—standards the president already has pledged to deliver. Automakers have the technology today to boost fuel economy and cut tailpipe pollution beyond what is currently required. That would significantly cut global warming emissions and reduce U.S. oil dependence.

But because the administration can only do so much, state utility commissions must protect the public interest by forcing utilities to replace the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. At the same time, states and regional climate compacts – the Western Climate Initiative, which includes seven states and four Canadian provinces, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which includes 10 northeastern states – should consider, in the absence of congressional action, stronger global-warming-emissions-reduction measures.

A number of senators insist that it is Congress’ responsibility to address climate change -- as opposed to the administration’s -- but then block efforts to pass responsible legislative proposals that would cap global warming emissions while generously assisting industries to shift to a clean energy economy. In the face of the overwhelming dangers that climate change presents to our nation’s welfare, obstructionist senators need to choose one way or the other. Pass a comprehensive bill, or let the administration do its job. We urgently need that kind of leadership from either one end of Pennsylvania Avenue or the other.

Kevin Knobloch is the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.