Senate Committee Wrestles with Climate Change Legislation

Published June 1, 2003

Responding to concerns raised by colleagues and policy experts nationwide, Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) on April 8 removed from a draft energy bill language critics warned would have facilitated back-door implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.

The measure would have created a federal climate czar, charged with reducing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, and would have mandated specific steps to be taken toward carbon dioxide reduction. Domenici’s action does not prevent the return of climate change provisions in later versions of the bill.

The appearance of Kyoto-style climate provisions in Republican-controlled energy legislation took the media by surprise. An April 8 Wall Street Journal editorial described the draft language as “putting the U.S. on a path to the Kyoto treaty that Al Gore negotiated but the Bush administration repudiated.

“The draft bill would require a national strategy to ‘stabilize and over time reduce net U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases,’ ” continued the Journal. “The only explanation for this pre-emptive concession is defensive politics.

“There is a better way,” asserted the Journal, “which is to keep fighting on the merits. There is no scientific consensus that greenhouse gases cause the world’s modest global warming trend, much less whether that warming will do more harm than good, or whether we can even do anything about it.”

Climate Title Dangers

A letter criticizing the energy bill’s climate title was sent to Domenici on April 4. (See “Senate Should Oppose Energy Rationing,” Environment & Climate News, May 2003.) It was signed by the leaders of 21 nonprofit organizations, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), 60 Plus Association, National Taxpayers Union, National Center for Public Policy Research, Small Business Survival Committee, and Frontiers of Freedom.

The letter warned the climate title would “create the institutional and legal framework and the political incentives necessary eventually to force Kyoto-style energy rationing on the American people.”

“The Kyoto Protocol is not specifically mentioned in the Energy Bill,” explained Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation. “Instead, the measures that would set up the framework to implement the Kyoto bill are grouped together in a section innocuously called Title XI.

“It’s important to realize that more than just bad science is driving the advocates of the Kyoto Protocol,” Weyrich added. “Some of the biggest proponents of Kyoto have a vested interest in halting U.S. economic growth. The European Union, for instance, has plenty of strictures on their own countries when it comes to welfare and labor policies that brake the dynamism of their economies. Slowing down our country’s more vigorous economic growth is part of their own unstated strategy to ensure their economic competitiveness in the international marketplace.”

“Preemptive capitulation is a losing strategy,” cautioned CEI’s Myron Ebell. “If enacted, the climate policies in the current draft energy bill would put the U.S. on a slippery slope to energy rationing.”

Ebell asserted the climate title in the draft energy bill “is a mish-mash of bad bills and amendments left over from the 107th Congress. Although conservative opponents of Kyoto-style policies wrote and supported some of this junk, they were trying to keep out or replace even worse stuff thrown into the anti-energy bill by Daschle, Kerry, Lieberman, and Jeffords.

“Although the energy committee staff’s draft bill is a big improvement in most respects over Senator Daschle’s anti-energy monstrosity last year,” Ebell said, “the climate section looks like a Lieberman or Kerry campaign document.”

Threat Remains

Domenici’s action did not foreclose climate language from appearing in the final version of the bill. The Energy and Commerce Committee began marking up the first draft April 10, and deliberations remained underway as this story went to press. Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) indicated he would vote for climate change language unless some form of compromise could be reached.

Unless one or more Democrats voted to reject them, Smith’s defection would return climate change provisions to the Senate energy bill. If that occurs, the fate of climate change legislation would likely be decided in conference with the House, whose energy bill includes no such provisions.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.