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Why We Need a Vote on Climate Legislation This Summer

Frances Beinecke

Posted May 21, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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It has been a good week in the Countdown to Copenhagen. We have seen a remarkable amount of climate action in the past few days, and if this pace keeps up, the United States might actually arrive at the international negotiations in Denmark with some impressive commitments in hand. The challenge now is to sustain this momentum until we get a final vote on climate legislation this summer.  

Thanks to the leadership of Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, we are picking up speed. This week, the Waxman-Markey bill has been undergoing the markup process, in which members of the Energy and Commerce Committee can propose and debate amendments to the draft legislation.

Committee Chairman Waxman has done a good job of keeping the bill on track--even in the face of Republican delay tactics.

House rules dictate that for every amendment offered, all members have the right to speak for 5 minutes. Rather than engage constructively, Republicans leaders have filed more than 400 amendments designed to weaken the bill and slow the pace down. Luckily Waxman appears unfazed. He kept the mark up running until nearly midnight on Tuesday and Wednesday. Now it looks like he might be able to get a vote by Thursday evening.

The next step in this bill's life will be a pivotal moment as we move toward Copenhagen. We need to get this bill to the House floor for a final vote, and we need to do it before the summer recess in August.

Why? Because support for climate action is reaching a crescendo. President Obama has clearly stated his desire for global warming legislation. Likewise, leaders from across all sectors--Fortune 500 companies, environmental groups, energy giants, labor unions, and most recently the influential utility American Electric Power--have declared their support for the Waxman-Markey bill.

This is a moment we can't squander. Congress must vote on climate legislation while the spotlight is still shining. If we wait until after summer, the focus might shift to other items on Congress' long list of priorities, including healthcare reform. In likelihood American would then go to Copenhagen empty handed, and the chances of reaching an international agreement to confront the global climate crisis diminish dramatically.

A vote before August will help avoid this fate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will bring Waxman-Markey to the floor before the recess, and NRDC and our partners in the USCAP will hold her to that.

Fortunately, the White House keeps nudging lawmakers toward passing climate legislation. The most recent prod came from the announcement this week that the federal government will raise the fuel efficiency standard for cars and trucks and regulate global warming emissions from vehicle for the first time.

This historic development can move climate action along  in two ways. First, it delivers concrete and final action. There are no more lawsuits to file and no amendments to debate. Starting in the year 2012, America will have more efficient cars on the road, end of story.

Second, this is yet another reminder to industry that the alternative to the climate legislation isn't doing nothing. The alternative to federal climate legislation is having the EPA regulate carbon emissions source by source.

The days of ducking responsibility for global warming pollution are over. And that is why more industry leaders are throwing their support behind climate legislation--behind a comprehensive and clear law, rather than piecemeal regulation.

While going to Copenhagen with evidence of federal regulation shows some signs that America is taking global warming seriously, a climate law would be far more persuasive. I hope you will join me in encouraging your representatives to pass such a law and make America a leader going into the international climate negotiations.  

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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