Senate Energy and Climate Change Legislation: Perhaps a Floor Vote by October

Comprehensive Energy and Climate legislation is moving along through the Senate, and could come to a floor vote by October. Six Senate committees – Agriculture, Commerce, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment & Public Works, Finance and Foreign Relations — have jurisdiction over portions of the bill, a tactic that Senate leadership hopes will give a number of influential, but as yet undecided, Senators input and a stake in the bill’s passage. Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will go first with a draft, and plans to unveil her climate bill September 8th, following the Senate’s return from summer recess. As Greenwire reported, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hopes to do work out as many problems as possible before bringing the bill to the floor, but is still shooting for a vote as early as October.

So what’s going to be in the bill? A lot of what was in ACES, for one. Greenwire reports Chairwoman Boxer as saying that “the Waxman-Markey bill is the mark we’re working off to write our bill. I would say tweaks are more of what you’re going to see than major changes.”

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), who is also a member of the Environment & Public Works Committee, could be a roadblock to passage of the bill. Baucus has increased his climate, energy and trade staff, bringing as many as 10 aides into various meetings on the legislation, and said he plans to mark up climate provisions dealing with emissions allocations and trade. It is not yet clear if his Finance Committee will schedule a markup before the Environment & Public Works Committee, or whether Baucus will wait until after EPW reports out a bill. Either way, Baucus will play a critical role as the most senior Democrat on Boxer’s committee and a leading centrist Democrat with a voice that carries tremendous weight in the leadership ranks.

Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee will also play a key role in shaping the bill. The Committee plans to hold hearings to explore the role for agriculture and forestry in climate change legislation. Two major farm groups on opposing sides of the debate, as well as senior Obama Administration officials will all testify at the hearing. Agriculture Committee Chairman Harkin (D-Iowa) noted today that one of the provisions he would like to see changed is the allocation of allowances to the utility sector based on both historic emission levels and retail sales – a compromise that the Edison Electric Institute focused on including in the House bill.

Meanwhile More liberal members such as Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) are pushing for tighter emissions limits than the 17% target included in the House-passed bill.

Ultimately, compromise is likely to be the name of the game, just as it was in the House.

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