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Democrats Talk Up Climate Change with Little Hope For Results

Image: U.S. Senators from the Senate Climate Action Task Force gather on Capitol Hill in Washington

U.S. Senators from the Senate Climate Action Task Force gather before holding the Senate floor to urge action on climate change, on Capitol Hill in Washington March 10, 2014. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT) YURI GRIPAS / Reuters

Monday night's Senate climate change talkathon may have its own hashtag (#Up4Climate), but it doesn't have any related legislation. So, even though more than two dozen lawmakers are going to be up all night, Congress isn’t going to pass a climate change bill any time soon.

“I don’t think there’s a chance of positive legislation actually moving through the Senate -- and definitely not through the House,” said David Doniger, policy director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Monday night's talkfest will underscore how much the agenda has changed since 2009 when the House passed its Waxman-Markey climate change bill. The focus has now shifted to the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules for power plants and the court battles over those rules.

If we make this an issue in 2014, if we make this an issue that Republican presidential candidates have to address, then I think we can put ourselves in a position where we can get a serious climate bill passed

The goal in the current Congress, Doniger said, is “fending off negative legislation” passed by the House that would “curtail or repeal the authority that the president and the EPA have under the Clean Air Act.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told reporters Monday that the Senate all-nighter “is a signal of a much larger confidence that we have about our ability to get a significant climate bill passed in Congress.”

He argued “if we make this an issue in 2014, if we make this an issue that Republican presidential candidates have to address, then I think we can put ourselves in a position where we can get a serious climate bill passed. But going straight to that before we’ve built that sort of strength and that sort of coalition I think would be premature.”

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Whitehouse’s problem is partly in his own ranks. When he offered an amendment last March to allow a fee or tax to be imposed on carbon dioxide emissions, the Senate rejected it on a vote of 58 to 41. Thirteen Democrats, including four up for re-election in 2014, opposed the amendment.

Climate change has been shunted aside by other energy issues, especially by an impending decision by President Barack Obama on building the Keystone XL Pipeline.

And since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the agenda has been dominated by urgent calls from House Speaker John Boehner and others for Obama to allow increased exports of U.S. natural gas to offset the strategic leverage Russia enjoys as natural gas supplier for European countries.

The political environment has fundamentally changed since Obama began his presidency with a call for Congress to pass climate change legislation.

The House answered his call by narrowly passing the Waxman-Markey bill in June of 2009; that legislation would have established a cap-and-trade program for reducing greenhouse emissions. (Parallel legislation stalled in the Senate.)

And with the House now under GOP control, a revisitation of climate change legislation seems unlikely.