Climate bill this year? Don't count on it

Congress may be gearing up to tackle the big questions on climate change this week but don’t expect more than incremental progress before the presidential election, speakers at the American Wind Energy Association’s annual conference in Houston today said.
The big picture is too complicated, polarizing and daunting to address, particularly in an election year, but some small measures, like the extension of a 2 cent per kilowatt-hour renewable energy tax credit set to expire Jan. 1 seems possible, said Greg Wetstone, director of public policy for AWEA.
“A lot of what we see this year is really setting up for the next Congress,” Wetstone said. “We hope maybe in the first 100 days of the new Congress there will be lot pent up energy and maybe something like a national renewable portfolio standard can move forward.”
Climate policy can’t be rushed because if not done properly it can made bad situations worse, said retired General Wesley Clark. But making significant changes is an imperative because U.S. spending on foreign oil undermines our national security and enriches regimes that aren’t particularly democratic or interested in creating economic opportunity for broad sections of their societies, Clark said.
“The more we consume the more we distort economic development in other parts of the world,” Clark said.
Pat Wood, the former head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Texas Public Utility Commission, said policy makers need to be careful in how they move, particularly against coal power plants operators. Wood believes by 2100 the U.S. could see most of its power coming from wind, nuclear and solar, but natural gas and coal “are going to be bridges to the future” he said.
“Telling coal you don’t get a seat at the table isn’t going to help,” Wood said.
And rather than creating a new regulatory scheme to address carbon emissions that largely come from coal power plants, Wood said, it might make more sense to make a more directed effort at just that industry.
But addressing the coal issue directly would be like asking politicians “to put their finger on the red button,” said Jeff Goodell, author of the book Big Coal.
“To actually confront what we’re going to do about coal is the most politically fraught thing you can do,” because of the costs that will be incurred.
Former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta said he thought the Environmental Protection Agency likely has the authority to handle the issue with coal plants more directly than it has exercised under the current administration, so it could tackle some of the issues better with a new team in the White House.
But confirmation hearings on a new EPA administrator would likely be contentious if the agency was going to go in that direction, Wood said.
“It would make the Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork supreme court confirmation hearings look like kindergarten,” Wood said.