Climate Change and Congress

The first year of the 113th Congress (2013-2014) draws to a close with no passage of climate-specific legislation, but signs that some in Congress understand the importance of addressing this issue. More bills were introduced that support climate action than oppose it. (For brevity, we refer to all legislative proposals as “bills.”)

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at what Congress has done so far this term explicitly referencing climate change or related terms, such as greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide:

  • 131 climate-specific bills have been introduced, surpassing the 113 introduced during the entire 112th Congress (2011-2012), and perhaps on track to match the 263 of the 111th Congress (2009-2010).
  • 81 of the bills (62 percent) support climate action in some way.
  • 31 bills are intended to build resilience to a changing climate, compared with nine introduced in the previous Congress.
  • 30 bills have bipartisan co-sponsorship. Of these, 16 support climate action in some way.
  • 25 bills, five of them bipartisan, would block or hinder the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Two such bills have passed the House, though are unlikely to be passed by the Senate and signed into law.
  • 12 of the bills supporting climate action were written by Republicans, while eight bills opposing climate action were written by Democrats, showing that climate issues don’t always fall neatly along partisan lines.
  • 7 of the 16 bipartisan bills that support climate action promote energy efficiency. The bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill is considered to have the best chance of enactment of any energy measure in this Congress.
  • 3 bills would block or hinder federal agencies from using the social cost of carbon in federal rulemaking.
  • 2 bills seek to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.

In the aftermath of the Senate’s failure to pass the House-passed Waxman-Markey bill in 2010, it has been three years since a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill has been introduced in Congress. A bill to establish a carbon tax – also known as a carbon pollution fee – has been introduced in every Congress since the Stark-McDermott Save Our Climate Act of 2007. The idea, however, is unlikely to gain traction in this Congress. Five measures express opposition to a carbon tax.  Of the two Senate bills that would establish a carbon tax, one failed 33-66 when it was offered as an amendment to the Senate budget bill.

Perhaps the most significant laws enacted by this Congress relating to climate change didn’t mention the words “climate change” at all. The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act provided $17 billion in emergency funding for Sandy relief. The Hurricane Sandy Relief bill provided $9.7 billion in increased borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program to deal with Sandy’s aftermath. Sea level rise caused by climate change is exacerbating the impacts of coastal storms like Sandy. The National Flood Insurance Program, in many cases operating with outdated flood zone maps that don’t reflect the true danger from rising sea levels, increased precipitation, and heightened storm surge, is about $24 billion in debt.

It is encouraging that there are more bills that support climate action than oppose it. These bills primarily focus on building resilience to a changing climate and improving energy efficiency, which can attract bipartisan support. Congress has acted on very few of these bills, however. Even bills with strong bipartisan support, such as the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, have not been brought to a vote.

We remain cautiously optimistic that this political gridlock will pass and Congress will act on climate.

Photo Credit: Climate Bills and Congress/shutterstock