Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Democrats promised a wave of “green” legislation when they took control of Congress in January 2007, but their failure to produce major legislation to address global warming has left many environmental activists seeing red.

Global-warming legislation has yet to reach the floor of either chamber of Congress even though Democratic leaders say a broad measure to significantly cut greenhouse-gas emissions remains a priority and cite measures recently signed into law that curb pollution.

“What we’ve seen thus far is a lot of throat-clearing” by Democrats, said Barry Rabe, a public-policy professor at the University of Michigan and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a liberal Washington think tank.

“There has been obviously a big ratcheting up in the introduction of proposals, hearings on climate change and a range of other [environmental] issues … but when you point to actual legislative accomplishments, it’s pretty thin.”

In anticipation of today’s Earth Day celebrations, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday she is committed to pressing ahead with more environmentally friendly legislation because “the Bible tells us in the Old Testament ‘To minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship.’ ”

“To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us,” she added.

But it’s a Senate plan sponsored by a Republican and an independent that so far has attracted the most attention on Capitol Hill in the global-warming debate.

The proposal, sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, and supported by several Democratic and Republican senators, is designed to reduce carbon emissions by about 70 percent by midcentury. The measure is expected to be hit the Senate floor soon after Congress’ Memorial Day break next month.

Democrats say they already have done more to protect the environment in their first 15 months in control of Congress than Republicans or President Bush had done in previous years.

Mr. Bush in December signed a Democrat-crafted energy bill that calls for a 40 percent increase in the average fuel economy for cars, sport utility vehicles and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The provision is expected to reduce oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels per day by 2020 — half the current amount imported from the Persian Gulf.

The legislation also mandates that 36 billion gallons of ethanol or other biofuels be blended with gasoline by 2022 — a sixfold increase from today. And it requires increasingly energy-efficient appliances and improvements in energy efficiency of federal and commercial buildings.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, called the legislation the “the first step toward an energy revolution that starts in America and ripples throughout the world.”

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, also last year created a new House committee to address the issues of energy independence and global warming.

Chris Miller, director of the global-warming campaign at Greenpeace USA, said the Democrat-controlled Congress has made “achievements that we would not have seen under a Republican Congress.”

“We’re pleased with that,” he said.

But Mr. Miller added that, overall, he is disappointed with Congress’ lack of progress on a major bill to cut carbon emissions, which most scientists agree has caused an unnatural increase in global temperatures.

“There was some level of hope when the Democrats regained control of the Congress and Nancy Pelosi became speaker that, particularly on the issue of climate change, that we were going to see quicker and more movement on this issue than we have,” Mr. Miller said.

Some environmental activists have accused House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell, a Democrat from the automobile producing state of Michigan, for “dragging his feet” on drafting legislation to reduce carbon emissions.

“The speaker has a big problem [on producing global-warming legislation passed], and his name is John Dingell,” Mr. Miller said.

But Mr. Rabe says it’s unfair to blame Mr. Dingell for the House’s lack of a comprehensive global-warming bill and that the energy bill passed into law in December included stricter fuel-efficiency measures — a provision initially objected to by many automotive manufacturers in the lawmaker’s district.

“I think in many respects he becomes a convenient scapegoat, rather than the stumbling block,” Mr. Rabe said.

Some environmental activists say it’s too early to point fingers at the Congress, and have applauded the Democrats for at least addressing global warming — an issue often ignored by Republicans.

But Tony Kreindler, a spokesman with the Environmental Defense Fund, said Congress can’t afford to keep kicking the can down the road forever.

“The longer we wait, the more expensive it’s going to be to address the issue later,” he said. “We’re going to have to address the issue sooner or later. Every day delayed is a delay that shouldn’t happen.”

Mr. Bush last week called for decreasing U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions beginning in 2025 and asked Congress to pass legislation to help that goal, though he ruled out any of the bills Democrats or Republicans are likely to send him.

In a 20-minute address in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Bush said Congress should offer incentives to lower carbon-dioxide emissions, but did not lay out his own plan, leaving his allies relieved he didn’t go further and Democrats and environmentalists saying he missed a chance to take the lead.

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