Last summer, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the comprehensive Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, H.R. 2454. Although a comparable bill, S. 1733, introduced by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), cleared the Energy and Public Works Committee in September 2009, that legislation remains stalled in various other Senate committees.

Bipartisan Alternatives Emerging

The current absence of sufficient Senate support for the Waxman-Markey approach has led to bipartisan efforts based on less expansive cap and trade programs.

In December 2009, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal (CLEAR), S. 2877, which seeks to achieve emissions reductions through the imposition of cap and trade obligations on businesses that produce or import fossil fuels. Covered fuel producers would be required to obtain emissions allowances for the carbon dioxide emissions attributable to their products. Allowances would be distributed entirely by auction, with 75 percent of the auction proceeds refunded to U.S. residents as nontaxable income and the remainder used to support clean energy development.

Senators Kerry, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) continue to work on a framework that would combine enhanced support for domestic oil and gas production (including off-shore drilling) and nuclear power, with a scaled-down cap and trade program limited to the electric utility sector. The bill might also include a carbon-based fee to be applied to transportation fuels. The senators missed their target to release a draft bill before the Senate's spring recess and now hope to do so before the end of April.

Energy-Only Approaches

Others in the Senate have chosen to address climate change indirectly, by focusing on legislation to promote clean energy development and avoiding entirely the controversial concept of emissions caps. In November 2009, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced the Clean Energy Act of 2009, S. 2776, which would promote nuclear energy through research funding, loan guarantees, and cooperative agreements with reactor manufacturers and electric utilities to license certain small nuclear reactors. This bill joins the "energy-only" American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 sponsored by Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), which was reported out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in July 2009.

Efforts to Limit EPA's Authority

While Congress continues to ponder what—if anything—to do about climate change, bills have been introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate to limit U.S. EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the existing Clean Air Act. Bills introduced by Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) in the Senate and by Nick Rahall (D-WV), Alan Mollohan (D-WV), and Rick Boucher (D-VA) in the House would limit EPA's December 2009 finding that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to pollution that endangers public health and welfare to mobile source emissions, and would prohibit EPA regulation of such emissions from power plants and other stationary sources for two years.

Similarly, as litigation seeking to overturn EPA's endangerment finding entirely moves forward in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, companion resolutions have been introduced in the House and the Senate to achieve the same result via the Congressional Review Act.