WASHINGTON — Democratic leaders in both the Senate and House want to take action this year to stem global warming, but the imploding economy and balking Senate Republicans are likely to make that difficult.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he plans to take up the contentious climate issue by the end of the summer.
"We have to take a whack at it," Reid told The Associated Press. He said failure to act "would be neglectful."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also has cited "a sense of urgency" in addressing climate change, adding: "We cannot afford another year of delay." The chairman of the House committee charged with crafting a bill has promised to provide one to Pelosi by Memorial Day and a House vote could come before the August congressional recess.
But the biggest battle will be in the Senate, where Reid will have to get 60 votes including support from some Republicans. Last year a proposed climate bill garnered only 48 votes, though six senators who said they supported it were absent.
Reid noted that the election last year saw the Democrats gain seats giving them a near filibuster-proof majority and now a president who campaigned on getting a climate bill approved is in the White House. President George W. Bush vowed to veto any mandatory limits on greenhouse gases.
Still addressing climate change is likely to be an uphill battle in Congress.
In the Senate the climate debate "is going to break down much more along regional lines," predicts Bill Kovacs, vice president for energy and environment at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the climate legislation that stalled in the Senate last year. He maintains senators from manufacturing, mining and "Rust Belt" states will be reluctant to embrace climate legislation and higher energy prices during these hard economic times.
But many environmentalists see a political convergence that may open a way for passing a bill.
They cite a supportive president, a strong desire by Democratic leaders to address climate change, and a growing sense of urgency based on scientific evidence of the earth's warming. They also point to a business community that increasingly embraces action and fears that if Washington doesn't act states will, leading to a fragmented climate policy.
Obama increased the pressure on Congress when he signaled that he wants to reverse a Bush administration policy and allow California and a 13 other states to proceed with their own greenhouse gas regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to take that action shortly and appears poised to regulate carbon dioxide as an air pollutant.
"It's obvious a lot of companies would prefer to have Congress deal with this ... It does improve the chances of legislation," David Doniger, climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of the impending state and EPA actions.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, whose climate package last year was criticized as too broad and proscriptive, has promised a streamlined version this time. She said in a statement Friday she is "encouraged" by Reid's remarks and that the committee plans "to move forward on global warming legislation in the near future."
Reid said in the interview with the AP he is convinced many senators want to take action to limit greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, ahead of international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.
He said the Senate will first take up energy legislation _ focused on measures to spur development of renewables and increase energy efficiency _ in the next few weeks as a prelude to the climate legislation.
A key element of expected energy legislation will be a national requirement for utilities to produce a certain percentage of their electricity from wind, solar and biofuels. Reid said he also favors some new tax incentives to encourage energy efficient buildings.
"We've got to give people incentives to build better buildings and do something about the buildings that are there right now," said Reid.