Speeches


U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (Democrat - New Mexico)
G8+5 Legislators Forum at COP-11
Montréal,
December 6, 2005
 
Recent Legislative Developments in the Senate
 
As all of you know, the topic of global warming and the response of the to the threat posed by global warming has been a topic of great interest in Congress over the past decade.  I think it is fair to say that we are seeing a major shift in the ground of that debate in the , as both the science of global warming and the potential stakes for the economy in having the wrong sort of climate policy become more clear.
 
            In the last Congress, the United States Senate, which pays a central role in ratifying international agreements, had its first major debate on a proposal to address global warming.  That proposal, from Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, would have instituted a hard cap on the emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.  They proposed that by 2010 the reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to year 2000 levels.  This reduction would be accomplished through establishment of a cap and trade system.
 
            When the Senate first voted on the McCain-Lieberman proposal in 2003, it received 43 votes of support, including mine.  In the congressional elections in 2004, though, the makeup of the Senate shifted away from this proposal.  In June of this year, the McCain-Lieberman proposal (with slight modifications) received only 38 votes.
 
Recognizing the importance of having the United States take leadership in the response to global warming, but mindful of the political complexity of the issue, I had been working very closely with a colleague of mine, Senator Pete Domenici -- also from my home state of New Mexico -- to see if we could come up with an alternative proposal that would have a greater chance of majority support in the U.S. Senate.   Senator Domenici is the Chairman of our Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and has become increasingly persuaded of the need for a proactive policy on greenhouse gas emissions.  Our alternative proposal was based on recommendations made by a bipartisan group of energy experts, collectively known as the National Commission on Energy Policy.  This proposal would represent a concrete, but more modest beginning at containing and constraining carbon emissions going into the atmosphere.  It differed from the McCain-Lieberman proposal in three primary ways.
 
1.      It set less ambitious goals, and
2.      It contained a so-called safety valve (which insures that the cost of compliance will not exceed a set amount per ton of carbon put into the atmosphere).  That cost cap would grow slowly each year.
3.      It provided for Congress to review the progress of actions by other key countries every five years to determine the appropriate level of continued efforts by the .
 
            In the context of our consideration of the energy bill before the Senate last June, which was on an expedited track for action, it was not possible to put this idea in a final form that could pass.  Therefore, Senator Domenici and I decided to pursue another course of action.  We decided to see if we could get agreement in the United States Senate on some basic propositions regarding future global warming policy.  Such an agreement would lay the basis in the U.S. Senate to move ahead and deal effectively with this important and complex issue in the future.
 
Thus, Senator Domenici and I, along with a bipartisan group of nine other Senators, introduced and passed a resolution that put the United States Senate on record for the first time that the Senate believes mandatory controls will be necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
 
Contents of the Senate Climate Resolution
 
            I would like to read a few key portions of the Senate Climate Resolution to you.  The resolution began with a few key findings, including the following:
 
Congress finds that greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere are causing average temperatures to rise at a rate outside the range of natural variability and are posing a substantial risk of rising sea levels, altered patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation, and increased frequency and severity of floods and droughts.
 
            I know this is an issue that some in this Senate, as well as many others, disagree strongly with.  For my part, I believe the science is well established that this is the case, and the National Academy of Sciences has stood behind that basic statement.
 
Here is the second finding in the resolution:
 
There is growing scientific consensus that human activity is a substantial cause of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere.
 
Again, we have Members in the Senate who disagree with that conclusion. They are certainly free to do that, but I believe the trends in climate science are progressively convincing more Members of the Senate of the truth of this proposition.
 
The third finding set out in the resolution is that ``mandatory steps will be required to slow or stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.''
 
 The day we introduced this resolution as an amendment to the Senate energy bill, there were some who spoke and said that mandatory steps are not required, that this problem will be solved by voluntary action, that the marketplace is solving this problem as we speak, and we do not need to be concerned about enacting any kind of mandatory provisions. I respectfully disagree with that perspective. I respectfully suggest that this is an issue that is going to require action of a mandatory nature by the United States Congress, and we need to acknowledge that.
 
            The final part of the Senate climate resolution expresses the conclusion endorsed by the United States Senate.
 
It is the sense of the Senate that Congress should enact a comprehensive and effective national program of mandatory, market-based limits and incentives on emissions of greenhouse gases that slow, stop, and reverse the growth of such emissions at a rate and in a manner that—
(1) will not significantly harm the economy and,
(2) will encourage comparable action by other nations that are major trading partners and key contributors to global emissions
 
            The Senate voted and accepted this resolution, with 53 Senators recorded in favor.  I was extremely pleased with this result and especially with the bipartisan support we received despite intense lobbying against it from the Bush Administration.  At the very last minute, we were even lobbied by the Vice President’s office to remove the word mandatory.
 
            I don’t have to tell anyone here that the has been very reluctant to commit itself to anything mandatory with respect to global warming.  That is why I was extremely pleased with the result of this vote.  The truth is that there is a diverging view within the that I do not believe is accurately represented by the President and the current Administration.  Increasingly, Members of Congress, Governors and business CEO’s are pushing for certainty and leadership on the issue of global warming.
 
Many of you may be aware of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that is under discussion here in the Northeastern States.  It is an attempt to construct a regional, market-based cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity generation sector.  The nine States that are participating in the Initiative plan to start by allocating and trading carbon dioxide emissions in the power generation sector only, to be followed by a broadening of the program to allow generation of offset credits in other industrial sectors that can be purchased by the power sector to meet its compliance requirements.  It is different from the NCEP proposal and the McCain-Lieberman proposal in that it does not envision a more economy-wide approach to greenhouse gas emissions.
 
California is seeking to implement its own carbon standards as well.  In June of this year, California Governor Schwarzenegger announced emission reduction goals for the State, and the Governors of California, Oregon and Washington have committed to act individually and regionally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below the current levels through strategies that promote long-term economic growth, protect public health and the environment, consider social equity, and expand public awareness.
 
In my own State of New Mexico, Governor Richardson has formed a Climate Change Action Council within the State government and statewide stakeholder group to develop a report over the next year to include, among other things:
 
  • Proposals to reduce New Mexico's total greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by the year 2012, 10 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and 75 percent below 2000 levels by 2050.        
  • An inventory of existing and planned actions that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions reductions.      
  • Consideration of costs and benefits of proposals.       
  • Findings on initiatives to create meaningful regional and national policy to address climate change.
                       
The Governors of these states deserve tremendous credit for taking initiative and providing leadership on climate issues, but I see the development of these State and regional approaches as a wakeup call for Congress and businesses to take a more accelerated look at a national program so that we can find a consistent way to regulate carbon in the United States.
 
Just a various States and regions of the have taken the lead in crafting their own programs to address climate change, we also can see leadership on these issues in the Senate coming from a variety of States and regions.  Key supporters of the recent Senate resolution included my colleague, Senator Specter, who represents a state dependent on the production of coal, and Senator Byrd, the lead co-sponsor of the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which has been used by the Bush Administration to defend its abandonment of negotiations within the Kyoto Protocol.
 
            It is important to recognize that many of my colleagues in the Senate are interested in doing something meaningful on global warming.  They have genuine concerns about economic growth and global participation, but I believe this is true of everyone involved in this issue, including the developing countries.  It is my hope that we can turn this interest into action in the Senate.
 
Ultimately, I believe that we can enact a mandatory program to control greenhouse gas emissions in the within the next year or two.  The reasons for my belief are as follows:
1.  the scientific evidence for human-induced global warming is getting more clear with every passing year;
2.  the public is getting more concerned about the potential problems that might be associated with global warming;
3.  elected officials at the local, State, and regional level are beginning to respond to these concerns with their own control program and policies;
4.  leaders of the business community are becoming more concerned about the potential for conflicts between various State or regional programs; and
5.  the same business leaders are coming to the conclusion that constraints on greenhouse gas emissions are coming, but they do not relish the possibility that action to define these future constraints might be put off for another three years or more, given that they have important decisions on energy capital investments to make in the interim.  These capital investments, which have lifetimes of 30 to 50 years, are increasingly risky in the absence of a political consensus on how to proceed.
 
I think that the confluence of these factors could well result in an environment in which even this Administration could rethink their approach to the problems of climate change, with an assist both from Senators of both parties and support from the U.S. and international business community.
 
            Thank you for inviting me to speak this evening.  I would be happy to take questions if you have them.