Senate Democrats say they are giving up plans to take up sweeping legislation on climate change and U.S. energy policy before their month-long recess in August. Instead, they will try to pass a more limited energy bill that will focus on responding to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid told reporters that Democrats simply do not have the 60 votes they need to overcome opposition Republican procedural hurdles and pass far-reaching climate change legislation before the August recess.
"Many of us want to do a thorough comprehensive bill that creates jobs, breaks our addiction to foreign oil and curbs pollution. Unfortunately this time we do not have a single Republican to work with in achieving this goal. For me it is terribly disappointing, and it is also very dangerous," said Reid.
In June of 2009, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would cap emissions from most sectors of the economy and establish a nationwide carbon market. Similar efforts have failed in the Senate.
Most Republican lawmakers oppose putting limits on greenhouse gases, called carbon caps, saying that could kill jobs in an already rocky economy. Democrats and two independent allies hold 59 of the 100 Senate seats. But there are some moderate Democratic senators who are also fearful of supporting a carbon cap, with congressional elections coming up in November.
The news is a blow to prospects of achieving a new global deal on climate change through United Nations talks. It is also a blow to environmental activists who had hoped President Barack Obama's election would present a golden opportunity to finally pass climate change legislation after campaign pledges he made to take action to save a "planet in peril."
John Coequyt, Director of the International Climate Change Program at the Sierra Club, said the Senate's failure to pass tough climate legislation would certainly not help international efforts, at a time when China appears ready to take action on reducing greenhouse gases. But Coequyt said the Sierra Club, an environmental protection advocacy group, is still counting on President Obama and Democrats to pass broader legislation later.
"Clearly the president has accomplished a lot so far. We expect, and I think we will get his full support next year," he said.
Senator Reid said he has not given up hope of bringing a more comprehensive bill to the Senate floor later this year. But he said next week, he will introduce a bill that will focus on home energy efficiency, creating green jobs and on responding to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Number one we are going to hold BP accountable, to ensure that they clean up their mess and things like this that happen in the future, hopefully we can stop them from ever happening, but if they do, there will be a process to move forward," said Reid.
The Democratic legislation will include a proposal to retroactively remove liability limits for BP and other oil companies responsible for oil spills like the current one in the Gulf of Mexico.