In one of the last things it does before Republicans take over the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee found itself entertaining a rare thing — a bipartisan energy bill.
But legislation won’t get to the floor before the end of this Congress, despite the symbolic victory of getting one Republican to cosponsor the legislation.
Sen. Sheldon Whithouse (D–R.I.) told Morning Consult that the Senate’s top environment committee doesn’t have time to wrap up legislative procedures on this bill before 2015.
Tuesday’s hearing was more of a chance to congratulate and lament the bipartisan bill. Even if it had passed the Senate, it was not likely to ever get consideration in the Republican-held House.
The bill, introduced by Senators Susan Collins (R–Maine) and Chris Murphy (D–Conn.) in June, aims to establish policies that cut emissions from “super pollutants.” Short-lived carbon pollutants, as they are known by scientists, include refrigerants, black carbon (soot), and methane – a byproduct of the oil and gas industry. Though this group makes up a small percentage of total emissions, they account for more than 40 percent of global warming currently impacting the atmosphere, according to the bill’s sponsors.
In large part due to the political toxicity of climate change, the bill isn’t being framed as a measure to curb global warming, but as a matter of public health. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that reducing short-lived climate pollutants could prevent more than 2 million premature deaths each year, something that the bill’s proponents were quick to tout during the hearing.
“Both Sen. Collins and I realize that considerable obstacles confront the enactment of this or any legislation in this present congressional environment; however, we believe this legislation represents an opportunity to have an important foundation for bipartisan cooperation on climate and public health issues,” the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Chris Murphy (D–Conn.), said during the hearing.
While Collins works to get her colleagues on board with the bill, which could get brought up again in 2015, the Obama administration’s action on carbon have erected a significant roadblock.
“In a vacuum this bill might have a chance of actually moving,” Eric Washburn, a natural resources and energy lobbyist with Bracewell & Giuliani, said in an interview.
Still, some Democrats remained positive in the face of their impending minority status.
“We’re not talking about revolutionary change here,” Murphy said, “we’re just talking about some common sense steps that can bring Republicans and Democrats together around cleaning up our climate.”
“This was potentially a breakthrough moment, to have a bipartisan bill that addresses climate change,” Whitehouse contended.
And Sen. Barbarba Boxer (D–Calif.), the EPW chairwoman, said she was “very excited about this bill,” which she called a “bipartisan breakthrough.”