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New global warming law won't happen soon

Congress  may not act until 2010 on a bill to limit the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming despite President-elect Barack Obama's declaration that he will move quickly to address climate change.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Congress will not act until 2010 on a bill to limit the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming despite President-elect Barack Obama's declaration that he will move quickly to address climate change, the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee predicted Wednesday.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said that while every effort should be made to cap greenhouse gases, the economic crisis, the transition to a new administration and the complexity of setting up a nationwide market for carbon pollution permits preclude acting in 2009.

"The reality is, it may take more than the first year to get it all done," Bingaman told a carbon markets conference here.

Instead, he said, Congress is "ready to go" early next year on legislation to boost energy savings in buildings and transportation and to require utilities to produce more electricity from renewable sources like windmills and solar panels.

Climate change remains priority
Obama advisers and members of his transition team said this week that climate change remains a priority for the incoming President.

Jason Grumet, a senior environmental adviser to the president-elect and on the short list for a position in the White House, predicted at the same conference Wednesday that it was going to be a "very, very busy 2009" on climate.

Obama could begin to tackle global warming without Congress, by giving California permission to regulate global warming gases from motor vehicles and by issuing regulations under the existing Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court said in April 2007 the government has authority under current law to regulate carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. The Bush administration, however, said the three-decades-old clean air law is the wrong tool and would cripple the economy.

"Action can take many forms and it could include administrative action, legislative action or both," said Sen. Barbara Boxer. The California Democrat has primary jurisdiction over climate change legislation since she chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

When asked if she expected a bill to be enacted next year, Boxer said: "I believe there will be major action on energy independence, which includes climate change."

Time needed for bipartisan consensus
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to rule out congressional action in 2009 on climate change but added that it will require "a significant amount of time to reach bipartisan consensus."

Environmentalists, emboldened by a larger Democratic majorities in Congress and a Democrat in the White House, are championing an all-in-one approach. They argue that green energy would cure the nation's energy and economic woes while also solving climate change problems.

"We should not silo the economic crisis and the climate crisis," said Larry Schweiger, the president of the National Wildlife Federation. "What we ought to be doing instead of 'drill, baby, drill' is be looking for a green shovel to dig our way out of this."

But even some advocates concede that a global warming bill that limits greenhouse gases will take time. A similar bill last year got only 48 votes and fell victim to a filibuster.

Congress and the incoming Obama administration are under increasing pressure from the international community and states to do something on climate change. In September, 10 northeastern states launched the first mandatory carbon market in the U.S. — the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. And in December 2009, representatives from major countries will meet in Copenhagen to negotiate a new international treaty to curb greenhouse gases for 2012 and beyond.

U.S. leadership is essential, the head of the U.N. Secretary-General's climate change team said Wednesday.

"A global deal can only be meaningful if the U.S. is part of it," said Janos Pasztor. "The world is looking to the U.S. to lead in the energy revolution domestically and globally."

Bingaman said Congress will not be influenced by international expectations.