What Does Passing Health Care Reform Mean for a Climate Bill?

President Obama, Vice President Biden, and senior staff react as the House passes the health care reform bill. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Last fall, climate legislation stalled in the Senate as health care reform took center stage. Now that the health care overhaul has passed—without a single Republican vote supporting it—attention is turning to how it will affect President Obama's chances of pushing through a bill to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The task may prove even more difficult in the political environment the acrimonious health care debate has created.

At BusinessGreen.com, James Murray writes that the likelihood of passing climate legislation received a "major boost" last night:

Some senior Democrat Senators have suggested that following such a long battle to pass healthcare legislation the Senate will have "no appetite" to deal with a climate change bill that is likely to prove equally contentious. However, both the administration and Democrat leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives remain adamant that they want to pursue a vote this year and with the party still behind in the polls ahead of November's mid-term elections the race is now on to move the legislation forward as quickly as possible.

Reuters points out that how health care reform is received will likely affect Obama's other agenda items: The healthcare victory provides a resounding denunciation to critics who had termed him a ditherer with little to show for 14 months in office. If successful, it could give him momentum on a range of other signature causes, including job creation bills, his proposed financial regulatory package, immigration reform and climate change. But if healthcare reform proves unpopular, Obama will find it even more difficult to gain traction on those issues.

The Chicago Tribune notes that still struggling economy is likely to be the White House and Democrats top priority in the coming months. “Almost certainly, that means putting off energy, climate change, immigration and other issues for at least a little longer.”

Along similar lines, several House members told BusinessWeek that Obama will likely be forced to scale back energy and climate legislation.

The House passed a climate and energy bill in the fall, and Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are working on a version for the Senate. The trio discussed the bill at closed-door meetings with energy industry leaders last week, raising some eyebrows.

The draft circulated at that gathering included a provision that coastal states that agree to oil and gas drilling off their shores would be offered one-quarter of the revenue. It also states that EPA would not regulate hydraulic fracturing, The New York Times reports. "The bill is also expected to include assistance for utilities to retrofit coal-fired power plants with ‘carbon capture and storage’ technology, incentives for large vehicle fleets to switch to electric power, and tax incentives to convert heavy duty trucks to run on natural gas," the article says.

The following day, Kerry briefed several environmentalists during another private meeting. While the advocates are staying mum about the specifics of the meeting, the Times reports that the session covered the same details as the industry meeting.

On Friday, 20 environmental groups, including Audubon, Environmental Defense Fund, and League of Conservation Voters, issued a joint statement saying that they are “encouraged” by the progress, and are still expecting climate and energy legislation to hit the Senate floor this year. Yet, they added, “legislative details are important, and are not settled yet.”

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