Will Senate Democrats Succeed in Keeping Obama's Climate Action Plan on Track?

Coal Plant (Photo Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

In a bid to shore up their defense of President Barack Obama's efforts to put limits on U.S. power plant greenhouse gas emissions, 17 Democrats and two independents launched a new Senate caucus this week to begin the long journey to resurrect climate legislation.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told reporters Jan. 14 she sees the group as a sort of rapid response team that can help her defend Obama's climate plan, mainly from Republicans who are once again targeting the Environmental Protection Agency's rules.

But in launching their Senate Climate Action Task Force, Democrats want their new caucus to begin what is likely to be a multi-year effort to revive climate legislation that died in the Senate in 2010. The caucus includes relatively new arrivals to the Senate from Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) to Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the co-author of a cap-and-trade bill that cleared the House in 2009.

To bolster their efforts, they recently got Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to reserve a “permanent” spot each Tuesday at the party’s strategy lunches for a senator to discuss climate change with that long-term view in mind. They readily acknowledge passage of U.S. carbon caps is years away given staunch opposition in the Republican-controlled House and among most Senate Democrats.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of Boxer’s new caucus who gave the climate speech at the Jan. 14 luncheon, told Bloomberg BNA beforehand that he would highlight how the new 19-member caucus can be more forceful in battling climate skeptics and defending the climate action plan Obama unveiled last summer.

“I will let them know the resources that we have with this group of senators and will assure them we will be using every opportunity we can to underscore the undisputed science” that human activities are “accelerating” global warming, Cardin said.

The Maryland Democrat said he also would stress that “there’s a workable way” to cut U.S. emissions including ongoing EPA efforts to curb power plant emissions. Cardin said he would also remind his colleagues that Obama—a president who has made climate action a priority—was easily reelected in 2013.

“We have made progress because we have a president who cares about climate change—so elections matter,” according to Cardin.

Democrats also would be urged to look for ways to “make positive progress where we can” either by pushing for more executive branch action or passing modest bills that increase conservation, or encourage more energy efficiency in buildings and use of alternative fuels.

Others Democrats joining Boxer in her new climate caucus include Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Al Franken (Minn.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), and Chris Murphy (Conn.).

Two independents who caucus with Senate Democrats—Sens. Angus King (Maine) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.)—also have joined Boxer’s group.

President Obama’s climate efforts will also be in the spotlight Jan. 16, when Boxer’s committee holds the first Senate climate hearing of the year. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and other administration officials are expected to trumpet the president’s plan at the hearing. 

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