The U.S. role in international negotiations will also be influenced by whether or not Congress has acted in the interim. Congress will enact national legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the foreseeable future. But, will Congress act in 2008? If it does, will it act on a bill that sets a strong target for emissions reductions? Will that legislation include a safety valve, i.e., a cost cap that allows reductions only up to the point that it costs a certain number of dollars per ton of carbon, and then stops mandating reductions?
I think it is very possible that Congress will act in 2008, but let me first mention one of the key drivers of this action. Three years ago we talked about states becoming increasingly active in developing their own approaches to reducing emissions because of the failure of the federal government to take action.
There are now three groups of 21 states with legally binding greenhouse gas reduction agreements, representing more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, more than 50 percent of the U.S. economic output, and about 37 percent of U.S. emissions. The number of states has grown each year. This presents a significant problem for businesses that want to reduce emissions. They face the prospect of having to deal with one system in the West, another system in the Midwest, a third one in the Northeast, another one in the states that haven’t taken action, and still another one in Europe. More and more companies want the federal government to resolve the differences under one comprehensive policy.
Here is the case for Congress acting in 2008.
- First, most of the major environmental legislation in the U.S. has passed in the two months before a national election.
- Second, most of the major environmental legislation in the U.S. was signed by Republican presidents who were not necessarily avid environmentalists, but acknowledged political reality.
- Third, the Senate Environment Committee voted out a solid bill introduced by Senators Lieberman (I-CT) and Warner (R-VA), and Senator Reid (D-NV) is signaling that he wants to bring it to a vote.
There is no major bill pending in the House of Representatives. Congressman Dingell (D-MI) and Congressman Boucher (D-VA) have said they will propose legislation. If they start early in 2008 to outline the key elements of a bill, that will signal an intention to bring something before the Congress by the end of 2008. If their pace is relatively relaxed, they will be acknowledging there is no possibility of getting action on the floor of the House and then through a conference committee process to put a bill before the President this year.
If Congress passed a global warming bill in the summer and sent it to President Bush, I believe he would sign it. He would do so in part because of the politics of the presidential election and in part to cement his own legacy. I don’t think he will face this test. Despite what may or may not happen in 2008, the groundwork is being laid for 2009.