US Climate Bill Slips as Key Senator Threatens to Withdraw Support

28 April 2010

The future of the United States Senate climate change bill - which had been expected to be revealed on 26 April - is now in question after one of its sponsors has threatened to withdraw support.

The bill - a multi-party effort by Senators Lindsay Graham (a Republican), John Kerry (a Democrat) and Joe Lieberman (an Independent) - was sidelined when the Obama administration and Senate Democrats decided over the weekend to prioritise passing legislation on immigration reform. Frustrated, Graham threatened to withdraw his support for the climate bill unless it regained its place ahead of immigration on the political agenda.

The release of the climate bill has been postponed indefinitely. Graham is still technically on board for the bill, but it is uncertain whether his concerns have been addressed.

At Graham's suggestion, the bill was sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday so that the six-week economic modelling process can begin. If the political divisions are resolved, the bill would reach the Senate floor in June at the earliest, but July is more likely.

Graham "needs [the bill] to be separated from immigration reform because he thinks that's necessary if we're going to have a real chance to get it adopted," said Lieberman on Monday.

Immigration shot to the top of the Democratic agenda last week when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a controversial law that will lead to more stringent treatment of suspected illegal immigrants. With the mid-term elections coming up this year, Graham called the Democrats' push for immigration reform a "cynical political ploy" to keep Hispanic voters on their side.

Environmentalists have called for swift action, worried that if Graham's support is lost, the climate bill will not pass this year. "And every year Congress waits to legislate, adequately curbing emissions will get harder and more expensive," an editorial in the Washington Post commented.

Obama had called on the Senate to tackle climate change immediately after completion of financial reform legislation. The White House issued a statement on 24 April urging the three senators to continue their work and restating its determination to see climate change legislation pass this year.

Senator George Voinovich (a Republican) has drafted a proposed amendment to the climate bill that would prevent federal, state and local authorities from going beyond what the bill mandates in their emissions reductions programmes. The proposal would also limit the authority of the EPA and various federal laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It would also prevent public nuisance litigation related to climate change. Voinovich's proposal would help the climate bill gain Republican support.

ICTSD reporting; "Senate Sponsors Scramble to Save Climate Bill After Lost Weekend," NY TIMES, 26 April 2010; "Sen. Kerry says EPA to start climate bill analysis," REUTERS, 27 April 2010.

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