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Will Obama Go to Copenhagen Empty Handed?


Rush to Complete Work on Energy Bill

Senate Committee to Unveil Its Version
September 29, 2009

President Obama has not made any secret of the fact that he would like to attend the Copenhagen conference with the energy bill in hand. Tomorrow, we will catch a glimpse of the version of the bill in one Senate committee.

Passage of the final bill is anything but assured before the Copenhagen conference, even though it is a major component of the Obama Administration's domestic policy agenda. Obama opened the UN Climate Summit last week, and  reported on significant progress in the United States on renewable energy:

We're making our government's largest-ever investment in renewable energy: an investment aimed at doubling the generating capacity from wind and other renewable resources in three years.

Across America, entrepreneurs are constructing wind turbines and solar panels and batteries for hybrid cars with the help of loan guarantees and tax credits; projects that are creating new jobs and new industries.

And he boasted about the passage in the House of the Waxman-Markey energy bill.

Most importantly, the House of Representatives passed an energy and climate bill in June that would finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy for American businesses and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, he did not say that the Senate had not yet passed its version of the bill, or that it was still very unclear whether he would have the bill on his desk to sign in time for the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Copenhagen in December. Copenhagen is 70 days away and the clock is ticking.

The House version of the bill was passed in June, and the Senate work on the bill has been stalled. There were various commentators who last week during the UN Climate Summit that the chances of the Senate actually passing a bill, which would then need to be reconciled with the House version, were not great. Juan Williams on National Public Radio sounded off some of the reasons why Obama will not have a bill in hand when he goes to Copenhagen in December.

[T]here was hope that he would go to Copenhagen in December [with a bill], and the idea was that he was expected to attend and he would have something from the United States to put pressure on China to bring them into the game. They're the two biggest producers of carbon emissions in the world. If he doesn't get this done - I think it's part of the difficulty the administration is having. In part, if he gets health care done, maybe he can start to pay attention to climate change. . . You know, he needs to get the health care deal done. And if he doesn't, then the question is where is the grassroots enthusiasm necessary to put pressure on the Senate? So at this moment, it just looks very doubtful . . .

Will Obama be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat? With debate on health care dominating the domestic agenda, as Williams reported, will Obama be able to prevail on the Senate to act. Today, the Washington Post reported that the first step towards passage will be unveiled tomorrow.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will unveil a bill Wednesday that aims for a 20 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by the year 2020, according to several sources and a close-to-final version of the bill obtained by The Washington Post.

While Senate Democrats have made significant changes to their legislative draft over the past week, they are preserving the near-term climate target, which is more ambitious than the House-passed climate bill. The House bill, authored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), would mandate cutting emissions 17 percent by 2020.

Both measures would require an 83 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from the 2005 baseline by 2050.

It will require all of Obama's political prowess to move this legislation forward before the Copenhagen Conference on December 7, 2009.