Climate Change Legislation Fails in Senate The U.S. Senate debated proposed climate change legislation on Tuesday — but the bill failed to win the needed number of votes to avoid a filibuster and was pulled from the floor. The bill would have cut greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds by the year 2050.
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Climate Change Legislation Fails in Senate

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Climate Change Legislation Fails in Senate

Climate Change Legislation Fails in Senate

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You're listening to Talk of the Nation Science Friday, I am Ira Flatow. For the rest of this segment, for the rest of the hour we are going to go about the debate over global warming legislation this week the senate started to debate. They started the debate, I should say, didn't finished the debate actually about global warming bill that would have implemented a cap and trade system for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. Republican opponents of the bill forced a late night reading of about five - it was 500 pages long. It took about nine hours to read it and then they blocked the bill from being voted on. And the fate of the bill now rests in the hands of Majority Leader Democrat Harry Reid who pulled the bill and said we'll wait to vote on it next year. Joining me now to talk more about the bill and what might happen next, are my guests, Manik Roy, he is director of congressional affairs for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. He joins us from our NPR Studios in Washington. Welcome back.

Mr. MANIK ROY (Director Congressional Affairs, The Pew Center on Global Climate Change): Thank you.

FLATOW: Also with us is Darren Samuelsohn. He is a senior reporter for Energy and Environment Daily. He's been at the capital all week watching the maneuvering over the climate bill, and he's with us today. Thank you for joining us, Darren.

Mr. DARREN SAMUELSOHN (Senior Reporter, E & E Publishing, Inc.): How are you?

FLATOW: How the exhausting was following this bill? Did you stay for all nine hours of the reading?

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: I stayed all day, the day of the all day campaign. That was Wednesday. I left around 9 o'clock, went home and watched it on C-SPAN like any sane person should do.

FLATOW: Tell us what happened this week with it.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Well, I guess the expectations were never supposed to be that high, that this was going to pass this year. It was supposed to be sort of a dry run dress rehearsal for next year. However, you know, you're on the Senate floor, and you're on Senate floor everybody puts their attention on this bill. And so, right from the get-go procedural maneuvers and parliamentary, you know, stuff kind of brought it to a screeching halt when it came to actually debating the details of the bill, and Democrats tried to get to the details of the legislation. But they were unable to do it, and ultimately today, it ended with a procedural vote to end the debate. Either side, I guess, could claim victory here, but ultimately the vote was in favor of stopping the debate and shelving the bill until next year.

FLATOW: Were any of our presidential candidates there with the senators to vote on?

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Neither of the two remaining presidential candidates were there for today's debate. Barack Obama passed through the capital a couple of days ago for a budget vote, but he didn't stick around for any of the climate debate. Both of them did put out statements today. They were saying that they would have supported today's cloture vote in favor of ending the debate, so sort of siding with the proponents of the bill. However, John McCain in his statement did point out that he didn't support the underlying bill because it didn't do enough for nuclear power and also he didn't like some of the labor provisions in the bill.

FLATOW: Did they get anymore votes than last time they've tried this around?

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: They did. They got 48 yes votes for this particular bill, and then they say that six more senators who weren't here today would have voted for the bill pushing them up to 54 supporters of the bill which is six short of the all important 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. There's a lot of caveats in that number though. It is more as well as your question to the last couple of votes. The last couple of votes were 43 votes in 2003 in favor of a different bill from John McCain and Joe Lieberman. And there were 38 votes in 2005 for a different version of that McCain and Lieberman bill. So, this one was substantially more. However, it wasn't really a vote on the merits of any particular bill. It was sort of more just an agreement to, you know, continue on the issue of climate change, and a lot of people who voted for this particular bill or this cloture vote, I should say, are not necessarily people who are ready to, you know, to jump wholeheartedly into this issue.

FLATOW: Manik, what were the major features of this bill? It was being held as, you know, as landmark legislation. Was it?

Mr. ROY: It was landmark legislation. This bill would've applied a cap and trade system to about 87 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions and would steadily each year declined the cap until we're about 70 percent below our current levels by 2050. And if I could just a little bit to the statistics that Darren was mentioning earlier, of course it needed - it would have taken 60 senators to have stopped the threat of a filibuster and moved on to vote on the bill. And we got only 48 on the Senate floor today. But of those 48, 10 had never voted for a cap and trade, 10 had voted against prior cap and trade bills before and which was, I think, a huge show of conversion. And then Darren says that you take the 48 plus the six who entered statements for the record saying that would've voted for closure, that's 54. Another seven of the senators who are neither of the above categories have either co-sponsored or voted for other cap and trade legislature.

FLATOW: So, while we can't say - we cannot say that today's vote was necessarily a show of strength for the Lieberman-Warner bill, it does seem to me that the next president comes to office with a Senate where there is a clear majority for mandatory action on climate change and greenhouse gas cap and trade in particular. 1-800-909-8225 is our number. We are talking about the Senate bill, this was just pulled off today and about the prospects for the future with Darren Samuelsohn and Manik Roy. And all three presidential candidates have expressed interest in some sort of control of greenhouse gases. Can we expect a similar bill next year or will they start over with new ideas? Yeah, go ahead, you can jump in there if you want, Darren.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: I would say that you can expect the bill from either one of these - of the candidates. I think, what I think Barbara Boxer from California, the Democrat and the chairwoman of the environment committee, and she was the person who was on the floor managing this bill this week. She had hoped to complete a bill or at least, you know, at the end of this process have something that she could hand to the next president as a, you know, in a box and say, hey here's a bill that we've gotten a certain number of senators behind and why don't you send us back up to Capitol Hill and away we go. John McCain has already spelled out where he is on cap and trade. He gave a speech in Portland a couple of weeks ago, and it's a little bit different. He would push for a little bit less aggressive emission limits and a different way of distributing all of the hundreds of billions of dollars in emission credits that would be, you know, handed out every year for compliance with this.

So, I think if John McCain was the president, you would see a different bill than the one today. Obama has called for a more - a stronger bill if he was elected president. Certainly, you know, you've got a lot of the finer details that have been hashed out or starting to be hashed out in the Senate, and the House is about to get rolling as well. Congressman John Dingell, who's in charge of the Energy Committee, this week, you know, announced plans for hearings as of later this month. So, you know, we're not done on Capitol Hill in a long shot.

FLATOW: I got a question from Second Life. We have also - where we broadcast to the Second Life Info and got a Science Friday T-shirt for their avatar there. Prospero Linden says, "I have to admit that I've become cynical about the whole process. Any bill that would actually pass will not really be all that big a deal and will include all sorts of concessions and handouts that congressional campaign donors, a pork-laden bill." Is that the kind of bill that we have there?

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: You could say that it - the money was flying around. John Kerry, today, at a press conference acknowledged that, you know, money was being used to ply for loose senator's votes. He mentioned Byron Dorgan and some billions of dollars for Clean Coal Technologies that was needed. I think Byron Dorgan had asked for 12 billion dollars over the life of the program, and Kerry said they had stuck 18 billion dollars in for Clean Coal Technologies to try and win Byron Dorgan's vote. Byron Dorgan actually didn't vote for cloture today, funny enough. So, maybe it didn't work or again, today it's been hard to really say if it has complete significance. So, yeah, money is flying around left and right here.

Mr. ROY: Could I say why at least I feel that the money flow issue is actually legitimate? It is not - there's obviously always a - there are questions raised by it. But let me say some of the - let me talk about some of the policy issues that are behind all that. In the end, what any good climate bill has to be about is moving money in our economy from high greenhouse gas-emitting activities to low greenhouse gas-emitting activities and doing that fairly quickly if we're going to get in front of this climate change problem. And so, there are lots of - and the cap-and-trade system is how this program does it, and there are lots of legitimate policy issues behind that and lots of questions that you have to resolve.

For example, how do we provide transition for high-emitting technologies in regions of the country? How do we reward early action by low-emitting technologies and regions? How do we protect U.S. manufacturers from - of trade exposed goods from competition offshore from countries that aren't controlling their emissions this way? Do we provide tax cuts to consumers who are facing higher energy costs? Do we just reduce the federal deficit? These are actually - these are multi-billion dollar questions, and there will involve the flow of a lot of money and being Washington, one should always check to see why decisions are made a certain way. But they're legitimate, and they're fundamental to what we're trying to accomplish here.

FLATOW: Is there a lot of money for for weaning us off carbon, and on to alternative energies in this bill for new research?

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Manik, do you want to go for that one?

Mr. ROY: There is, there is. There is about 75 percent of - actually, should I say a word about how cap-and-trade works?

FLATOW: Sure, sure. Absolutely.

Mr. ROY: So essentially, with cap-and-trade program, government sets a cap on the overall emissions of U.S. greenhouse gases. And then, it requires the large sources of these greenhouse gases to come in every year, and give one piece of paper, and each one of these pieces of paper is called the greenhouse gas allowance, for every ton of emissions that they put up in the atmosphere.

And some of these pieces of paper will be given free to the emitter, some of these pieces of paper will be sold at auction by the government. And so, and - so each one of these pieces of paper is money. Is - it'll end up being a lot of money and that's really how the program works.

So 75 percent of the allowances under the Boxer Lieberman-Warner Bill, would have been given for free to various entities starting in 2012. But eventually, that would faze down, until about almost 60 percent of those allowances would be sold at auction by 2032.

And so, you'd have - this increase of the auction essentially shows the amount of transition time, that would be given to various high-emitting entities in the meanwhile.

FLATOW: Uh-huh. And the money from tho - tha - from there goes where?

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Senator Boxer actually released a really handy chart on this one about two weeks ago, and it shows exactly where the money goes. She has 800 billion dollars through 2050 going toward a tax cut for people, who are going to need help with higher-energy bills.

FLATOW: Uh-huh.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Nine hundred and fifty-five billion dollars over the life of the bill, so that would have been through 2050 toward deficit reduction. So you know, trying to cut out the - you know, cut into the federal deficit.

FLATOW: Uh-huh.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: It's spread in a lot of other places. There was 342 billion dollars through 2050 for international adaptation efforts around the world, to help the poorest countries of the world, deal with the effects of climate change, I could keep going (unintelligible)...

FLATOW: Well, I was asking before about where is the money for alternative energies, and I was wondering whether it came from some of this money from cap-and-trade, or is there a separate part of the bill for that directly allocating the money?

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: It's a combination of both. I think there's auction revenue that's geared toward some percentage, toward alternative energies, and then there are free allowances as well, that are geared as well toward states that are using cleaner energy, toward companies that are using more efficient energy, toward technology R&D that will ultimately lead to work, you know, on those kind of technologies as well.

FLATOW: Uh-huh.

Mr. ROY: One of, I think, the very interesting debates on the Senate floor. There are some silly debates as there always are. But one of, I think, the most interesting parts of the debate down there, was what Senator Boxer did and I think very much to her credit. She was very explicit about the purposes to which she would put this allowance value.

And in effect, as you said earlier, it's a 500 page - almost a 500-page bill. Much - a huge amount of that - those pages are about the detailed places that she would send this money. That actually really bothered a lot of Senators, and they said, gosh, this looks like an appropriations bill, or it looks like pork barrel. Why not just take this money and give it in the form of - give it back to taxpayers?

Let's reduce the federal budget - deficit or provide tax cuts, and that's legitimate. The argument about whether you give this to various legitimate, you know, climate measures, or give it back to the taxpayers, completely legitimate debate, and I was actually thrilled to see it take place.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Unfortunately we didn't get the - to some of those amendments that would have kind of moved some of this money around.

Mr. ROY: True.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: You would've had an amendment from Senator Corker from Tennessee, and Judd Gregg from New Hampshire, that would have been a complete tax rebate, for all of the auction(ph) revenue would have been given back to, you know, the public, and we never got to that vote.

FLATOW: Uh-huh. We're talking about the energy bill this hour in Talk of the Nation's: Science Friday from NPR News. And of course, if the Senate or Congress changes its face in November, we might have a whole different set of players, or different kinds of people, different measures.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Certainly. I think you're going to see people leaving, for example, from, you know, the current congress. John Warner who is one of the co-sponsors of this bill from Virginia will retire at the end of this year, so Senators Lieberman and Boxer need to find a new Republican co-sponsor for one thing, and then you've got potentially, I mean, the polls saying you could see four or five new senate Democrats coming in replacing Republicans who are in trouble.

A couple of those Republicans interested enough voted today - took a vote and voted for cloture. I'm thinking specifically of Gordon Smith from Oregon, who's facing a tough reelection campaign, and John Sununu from New Hampshire. So, you know, worried in both of those states that have a little bit more maybe environmentally-conscious voters. They were thinking about the - thinking about that.

FLATOW: There was one interesting aspect of the debate, as I was watching, there really wasn't one - much talk about the science, was there?

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Not at all.

FLATOW: Except for Inhofe who still said that the majority of scientists don't believe in that. I don't know where he gets this number from.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: It was funny. Inhofe really took a backseat on this debate and past climate-change debates. He's been front and center on the floor, talking about the science, questioning the science, and his aides, you know, predicted a couple weeks beforehand that he wasn't going to be doing that anymore, and they kind of - they used a couple of other Republicans, as sort of the people in the front who were leading the opposition on gas prices primarily.

Inhofe was at a couple of the press conferences, and you know certainly, he is well. Actually, he really didn't go after the science so much. I mean partly, that could be, you know, their presidential candidate John McCain is in a completely different position than Jim Inhofe on the science and climate change. So...

Mr. ROY: Actually, there was a funny moment when Bernie Sanders of Vermont started talking a lot about the science, and then Inhofe said, oh, it's so tempting. I want to talk about the science, but he disciplined himself...

FLATOW: Hey, he did give some figure about thousands of scientists who were in a - you know, didn't believe in it, at one point of the debate, if I remember correctly, but stretching back...

Mr. ROY: Right.

FLATOW: But he's still trying to make the public believe that, But that is a sea change, is it not? That he had probably the lone voice there.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Absolutely, he had some proponents of, you know, actions pointing that out quite clearly that, you know, we're no longer debating if we need to do anything. It's now we're debating how, and you know we didn't really get into a complete debate about how, but that debate did start.

FLATOW: Yet, none of the candidates, either Obama or McCain, showed up for a possible vote that might have taken place.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: McCain hasn't made a lot of votes this year, so you know, for - you know, to give him a little bit of the cover. I mean, he's missed energy and environmental votes all year. The environmental groups are giving him a lot of trouble for that. Obama, you know, I haven't seen him take a lot of votes.

I don't know if he's missed as many McCain. But it's not common to see presidential candidates here, until their presidential campaigns are over.

FLATOW: All right. Go ahead quickly. Yeah.

Mr. ROY: In fairness to both of them, I think we knew that we weren't going over 60, which is what was needed today, and their statements of support for this cloture vote actually delivered, I think, almost the same value as the votes did.

FLATOW: Uh-huh. All right. We're going to take a short break, come back and talk a little bit more with our guests about - take some of your questions about this bill in Congress that hasn't get anywhere yet, and we'll come back later with Nikki Roy and Darren Samuelsohn so stay with us. We'll be right back after this short brake.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to Talk of the Nation: Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about the future of the congressional bill in Congress that might take care, and put some cap-and-trade taxes on carbon emissions with my guests Manik Roy of The Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Darren Samuelsohn, senior reporter for Energy & Environment Daily.

Our number, 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to Victor in Idaho. Hi, Victor.

BILL (Caller): No, it's Bill. I'm in Victor, Idaho.

FLATOW: Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

BILL: But anyway, I just wanted to know if either of you have an opinion on why environmental advocates have allowed almost the entire pollution argument, to become about global warming and greenhouse gases, which there's plausible arguments, are natural cycles when there are so many other things like mercury pollution, and nitrates, and oxides, and things like that, are undeniably human caused and the solutions are the same.

FLATOW: All right, hang on. We'll get an answer.

Mr. ROY: I would say that the science is overwhelming, that humans are contributing a large part of the global climate change that we're seeing, and the consequences of it are so profound and so sweeping across almost every aspect of our lives, and then frankly across every environmental issue you would care to name, that people that I know who've been working on environmental issues, other environmental issues for their entire careers, are switching over to working on climate change.

FLATOW: Let me go to Steven (ph) in Wichita. Hi, Steve.

STEVEN (Caller): Afternoon. My question would be, why not take the funds raised from the cap-and-trade sales, and air market as we're right back into fixing the problem. That is to say a company excess over its quota, it pays a million dollars, take the million dollars, fund it right back into solving the problem that makes it a problem.

FLATOW: Good question.

Mr. ROY: That's actually a lot of what this money did. It was a lot of the allowances are given in Senator Boxer's bill back to high emitting companies, which they're free to use however they want to, but presumably, they see the price signal and they use that money to shift back to - shift to lower emitting activities.

FLATOW: Gentlemen, a couple minutes I have left. Any predictions on how soon this might be taken up. If we get a new president, it's going to take time to get, you know, hit the ground running.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: It took, I guess, a year and a half for this bill to get from, you know, introduction at the start of Democratic congress to this point. So you know, a lot of people think that if Obama comes in, he has that energy as one of his two, I think, top domestic priorities, I've heard him say recently.

So I think you can anticipate an Obama campaign or Obama administration probably, putting a bill out there quickly and same with McCain to tell you the truth, and he introduced the bill with Lieberman in January of 2007.

FLATOW: Uh-huh.

So you know, it's a good chance that with either presidents, you're going to see a proposal going up to the Hill, and you know a congress that's very educated on this topic, that's ready to hit the ground running in January next year, too.

FLATOW: Darren, do they believe the public is now on the dime on this thing.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Well, you heard competing polls this week, you know, from the opponents saying that public couldn't care less about climate change. They are more concerned about energy prices, and then you had polls that proponents were using, that were saying that the American public is, you know, is truly alarmed and ready to vote.

FLATOW: Uh-huh.

I have a feeling that a lot of, you know, people around the country probably, think, you know a little bit more (unintelligible) one of your callers before said, you know talk about air pollution as opposed to climate change. Were - you know that's probably what they think it most often.

So there's a disconnect, I think out, there among the public on this, and you see the candidates may be not necessarily talking so much directly to cap-and-trade legislation. You see the candidates more talking about energy independence, and maybe like very broadly talking about global warming.

FLATOW: Uh-huh.

So you know, the candidates out on the trail will be much broader,, and then you know back here in Washington, we're deep into the weeds on this stuff.

FLATOW: Manik, do you agree.

Mr. ROY: Generally, I agree but I do think there's sort of this rising - there's certainly a rising awareness of climate change in the public, and there is a growing fraction of the public that's starting to get the urgency of this issue.

FLATOW: Uh-huh.

Mr. ROY: And I think that it might be that at some point we'll see an event something like a love canal of climate change, where some event will occur and the public will say, okay, that's it. We understand. Get moving on this.

FLATOW: Uh-huh.

Mr. SAMUELSOHN: Funny. We almost had that this week. There was a tornado watch in the Capitol the day that the clerk was reading the 500-paged bill out a loud for a couple of hours, and the alarms were sounding in the capital. But one aide told me it was the first time they could remember that, you know, you hey had a tornado alert in Washington, D.C.

FLATOW: I've always said that there'd be no shortage of funding for earthquakes, if the capital were in San Francisco.

Mr. ROY: That's so true.

FLATOW: Thank you gentlemen for taking time to be with us today.

Mr. ROY: Thank you.

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