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Kerry-Boxer Bill Gets First Hearing Today

At this hour, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is holding its first hearing on the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act,” colloquially known as “Kerry-Boxer,” the Senate’s climate and energy bill. Right now we’re in the midst of opening statements, but later on, several Obama Administration cabinet officials will testify, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and FERC chairman Jon Willinghoff. This is the first of three days of hearings with multiple expert witnesses. Interestingly, on Thursday, former Republican Congressman Sherwood Boehlert will testify in favor of climate and energy legislation.

Advocates of climate and energy legislation have been boosted over the last few weeks on a variety of fronts. After the general belief that Kerry-Boxer was DOA in the Senate after similar legislation passed in the House, expressions of support from Republicans like Lindsey Graham and Lisa Murkowski have given it new life. Today a CNN poll showed 60% support in the public for the kind of cap and trade system in the bill, although I’d like to see the follow-up question “what is cap and trade?” The International Day of Climate Action in 179 countries gave a global urgency to the proceedings.

But that doesn’t mean this will be an easy lift. Republicans are planning to delay the markup of the legislation, scheduled for as early as November 3, by potentially boycotting the sessions (Democrats actually did this on the “Clear Skies” initiative, so it would be a bit of turnabout). The rules of the EPW Committee require that two members of the minority party attend for the meetings to go forward. Democrats are unlikely to be united on the issue as well. And while the EPW Committee is sufficiently liberal to pass the legislation, eventually it will end up in the hands of Blanche Lincoln’s Senate Agriculture Committee, strongly influenced by the agriculture lobby.

I’ll be monitoring the hearing for anything interesting throughout the day and the week.

UPDATE: Pivoting off today’s hearing, the White House announced robust funding for a new smart grid project, which would transmit energy more efficiently throughout the country and cut electricity use through this efficiency. It’s the largest ever investment in smart grid technology, and includes $3.4 billion in stimulus money along with $4.7 billion in private funds.

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David Dayen

David Dayen