Reid Puts Climate Issues Front and Center In Caucus Meetings; New Task Force Unveiled

By Dean Scott

Jan. 9 --Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is setting aside time at his party’s weekly caucus lunch in the Capitol to focus solely on climate change, a senior Senate aide said Jan. 9, in hopes of one day reviving a bill to cut carbon dioxide emissions and better defend President Barack Obama’s climate efforts from Republican attacks.

Reid reserves “a permanent spot” for the climate issue each week when Senate Democrats sit down for their hour-plus policy lunches, the aide told Bloomberg BNA.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is to provide the next climate update to senators at the Jan. 14 lunch, as Democrats steel themselves for Republican attempts this year to block Obama’s use of his executive branch authority to cut power plant carbon emissions and take other climate actions.

With the Republican-controlled House and most Senate Republicans opposed to bills to cap or tax those emissions, there is a growing sense among Senate Democrats that near-term progress will require a staunch defense of Obama’s initiatives, outlined by the president in June, the aide said .

“We realize the president is the only game in town for climate initiatives” in the near future, the aide said. “So we’re fighting back.”

In recent weeks, two other Democrats--Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)--have made presentations on the climate issue before their colleagues at policy lunches, the aide said.

New Task Force

Boxer and Whitehouse told reporters Jan. 9 that they are launching a new Senate climate task force to unite Democrats in what they admit will be a long journey to revive U.S. climate legislation.

The two Democrats are to formally unveil that new group of senators Jan. 14 and plan to showcase several recent arrivals to the Senate who support climate action.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who as a longtime House member co-authored the cap-and-trade bill that cleared that chamber in 2009, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are among the Democrats joining the task force.

Boxer’s environment committee also is to hold a hearing Jan. 16 to trumpet Obama’s climate action plan, which set timetables for the power plant carbon dioxide limits .

The task force joins an increasingly long list of so far Democratic-only groups launched in the past 13 months to spur action on climate change, including a House-Senate task force founded by Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to push for congressional action.

Boxer also started what she calls a “clearinghouse” of senators in late 2012 in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to regularly brief senators on climate policy and science issues.

EPA Administrator Expected

The Jan. 16 Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on Obama’s climate plan will include testimony from the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, who is overseeing the agency’s efforts to set carbon limits for new and existing power plants, and other administrative officials, including a representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a committee aide said.

House and Senate Republicans have criticized the EPA power plant rules for years but have thus far failed to block the agency from proceeding on the regulations. The Republican takeover in the House following the 2010 elections has left little hope of reviving a climate bill for now, but many Senate Democrats said there is a growing agreement in their caucus that they need to keep the issue alive and the pressure on, given that congressional passage could take years.

But Republicans aren't alone in opposing the power plant limits. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined the chairman of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Jan. 9 in introducing a bill to curb the EPA’s authority to set those emissions limits (see related story).

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at