IHS Chemical Week


Cap-and-Trade Before Copenhagen: Is It Possible?

2:18 PM MDT | August 25, 2009 | By VINCENT VALK

U.S. officials, ranging from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to (predictably, considering the bill bears his name) California Representative Henry Waxman are urging the Senate to pass cap-and-trade legislation before December's Copenhagen climate talks. It's a worthy goal considering the leverage that would accrue to the U.S. as a result of passage, leverage that would be far less useful after the talks.

It's an open question as to whether it will happen, though. Congress, and particularly the Senate, is currently embroiled in a nasty health care debate that, if anything, is about to get even nastier. I'm not sold on the Senate's ability to multitask on two big bills, and I don't see President Obama barnstorming the country in favor of cap-and-trade. Furthermore, due to the ever-present threat of the filibuster, the bill will need 60 votes to pass the Senate, quite a hurdle considering that it passed the house by a razor-thin margin.

This analysis indicates that passage is possible, but relatively unlikely. Conservative Democrats and, probably, a few Republicans will have to sign on to get the bill past the 60-vote threshold in the Senate. Beyond that, the Senate bill will need to be reconciled with the House version, and all of this will have to occur with the health care debate distracting everybody. Considering these challenges, U.S. negotiators ought to brace themselves for the possibility of going to Copenhagen emptyhanded.

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