Climate Change Bill Faces Delays In Senate While the House narrowly passed a climate change bill last summer, the Senate isn't expected to act until next spring. Five Senate committees have to weigh in before a final bill can go before the full Senate. The issue has taken a back seat to health care.
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Climate Change Bill Faces Delays In Senate

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Climate Change Bill Faces Delays In Senate

Climate Change Bill Faces Delays In Senate

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A week from tomorrow, world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to begin talks on a new treaty to curb greenhouse gases and global warming. President Obama will attend the summit.

This past week, the president urged action on climate change, saying that it's essential to reach a strong agreement to serve as a stepping stone to a legally-binding treaty. White House officials say the U.S. will propose targets for reducing greenhouse gases and that will be in line with what Congress is considering. But a congressional bill is unlikely in time for the Copenhagen summit. Although House narrowly passed a climate change bill last summer, no action by the Senate is expected till next spring.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Earlier this month, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry was bullish on the outlook for the climate change bill he's co-sponsoring with Environment Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer. It was the same day that Boxer's panel had passed the bill without a single Republican showing up for the vote. Kerry approved of - for her damn-the-boycott-we're-voting-anyway attitude.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): You know, we welcome a healthy debate on this, but we don't need to play the delay game anymore around here.

WELNA: But there are other delays. Five other Senate committees also have to weigh in with their bills on climate change and that legislation then has to be mashed into one bill for the full Senate. Majority leader Harry Reid has conceded he's given up on trying to tackle climate change this year.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): We're going to try to do that sometime in the spring.

WELNA: For Oklahoma's James Inhofe, it was welcome news. Inhofe is the Senate's number one climate change skeptic and the top Republican on the Environment Committee.

Senator JAMES INHOFE (Republican, Oklahoma): It appears now evident, which we've known all along, and that is that we're not going to be passing anything in this country on cap and trade.

WELNA: Cap and trade seeks to curb global warming by capping carbon emissions and trading permits to pollute. Inhofe asserts momentum for climate change has slowed in the Senate because Americans have lost interest in the issue. Not so, says the Sierra Club's global warming director David Hamilton.

Mr. DAVID HAMILTON (Director, Global Warming and Energy Programs, Sierra Club): The main reason that this doesn't have the momentum that we would want is the fact that the issue is stuck in traffic behind health care.

WELNA: And with the Senate now expected to debate its health care bill until Christmas, Environment Committee Chairwoman Boxer acknowledges climate change has had to take a backseat.

Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat, California, Chairwoman): I'd like to deal with it yesterday, you know. But I don't think it means that there's no progress. I don't think it means we're never going to do it. What I think it means is that the political agreement that's reached Copenhagen should spur us on, as opposed to us spurring on Copenhagen.

Senator JAY ROCKEFELLER (Democrat, West Virginia): So there's, I think some people are trying to hurry the process too much.

WELNA: That's Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller. The West Virginia Democrat's panel has yet to schedule its hearings on climate change and this coal state senator says he's in no hurry.

Sen. ROCKEFELLER: I think it's not unfair to say that if you use the word cap and trade, that may be one-half to two-thirds of the United States Senate could not explain what is meant by that. Not a good way to sort of go into a bill of that scope and magnitude. And I know that my coal miners, the people in West Virginia, they just know it to be a really bad word.

WELNA: Meanwhile, Senator Kerry has teamed up with Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham to draft a climate change bill with broader political appeal. Graham says both sides in this debate have to give ground.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): If you're a Republican and you can't agree to emission controls, we don't have a lot to talk about. If you come to the table as a Democrat and said, I'm dead set against nuclear power and offshore drilling, I don't think we have a lot to talk about. But if you're willing to find middle ground, we can get there.

WELNA: Oklahoma Republican Inhofe for his part says he's decided on his next move.

Sen. INHOFE: I have been the lead senator standing up and exposing the science, the costs and the hysteria behind global warming alarmism, and I will be traveling to Copenhagen.

WELNA: Where there will be no Senate-passed bill to contrast with Inhofe's nay saying.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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