Sen. Boxer hopes to bring climate legislation to floor by summer

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she plans to move a comprehensive climate bill through her committee and to the floor by this summer.

Boxer called the bill, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), “the gold standard” for climate legislation. She said she has not yet discussed securing floor time with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), noting that would come after her committee marks up and potentially passes the bill.

“We’re going to go in earnest to this topic and this bill" after the committee deals with the Water Resources Development Act, Boxer said during a Thursday news conference.

ADVERTISEMENT
Sanders said he also has not talked with Reid about the bill, which would put a price on carbon emissions and be the first major climate legislation to hit the floor in close to four years. While he hasn't discussed specifics with Reid, Sanders noted the Nevada Democrat is “sympathetic” to climate issues.

President Obama called on Congress in his State of the Union address Tuesday to pass a "market-based" climate measure before pledging to exercise executive authority if lawmakers fail to act.

And while the bill's passage in the Senate — much less the GOP-controlled House — is unlikely, bringing it to the floor would signal Democrats want a more public political battle on climate change.

Republicans are likely to try to block bills that impose a price on carbon, saying the economy can ill afford such measures. The carbon fee also will meet resistance from a bloc of centrist Democrats whose constituents spend a higher than average level of their income on gasoline and electricity.

Sanders said the bill contains provisions to minimize the effects of energy cost increases on consumers. And while Sanders said climate action is most likely to come from the president in the next two years, he noted, “We will never fully deal with this crisis until Congress passes strong legislation.”

The bill’s carbon fee would affect 2,869 of the largest fossil fuel producers, returning 60 percent of the revenues generated to U.S. residents to offset costlier energy, Sanders said. The federal government would use the rest of those funds to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, job training programs and research and development.

The carbon fee would generate $1.2 trillion in the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It also would slash greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The bill also would require the gas drilling industry to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The practice injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight-rock formations to tap natural gas and oil.

Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program, said he thinks businesses could come around to support the bill. He said the legislation could offer more predictable policy compared with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions rules. EPA has begun moving ahead with climate regulations, and advocates want a more aggressive effort on that front during Obama's second term.

“This bill provides an awful lot of certainty,” Slocum told The Hill on Thursday.

Republicans will almost certainly try to block the bill.

“It’s not just energy prices that would skyrocket from a carbon tax, the cost of nearly everything built in America would go up. Let’s not lose sight of how big of a dud cap and trade was in 2009, or as it came to be known, cap and tax. This is really no different,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the Environment and Public Works Committee’s top Republican, said in a Thursday statement.

The bill cannot afford to lose many Democrats if it hopes to clear the upper chamber. Some Democrats from oil-patch states and those that rely heavily on coal-fired power or spend a disproportionate amount of household dollars on gasoline would likely reject it.

Those Democrats likely include Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.), among others.

Ben Geman contributed.