New political landscape jeopardizes U.S. climate bill

The new political landscape emerging from U.S. midterm elections almost killed any likelihood that a climate bill could be passed over the next two years and substantially hampered the White House’s efforts on the issue.

As Republicans are poised to take over the House of the Representatives and increase presence in the Senate, the so-called cap-and-trade bill that narrowly passed the House in June 2009, is definitely in limbo.

The bill, now stalled in the Senate, looks more jeopardized on the Capitol Hill where over 100 freshmen Republican lawmakers will be seated as the new Congress convenes in January.

An investigation by progressive blog ThinkProgress has found 50 percent of these new lawmakers deny the existence of manmade climate change, with 86 percent of them oppose to any climate change legislation.

Moreover, House Republican leader John Boehner, set to be the next speaker of the lower congressional chamber, has said in public that the climate change theory is "almost comical."

Obama, who made climate change bill a priority of his agenda, is fully aware of the prospect.

"It’s doubtful that you could get the votes to pass that through the House this year, or next year, or the year after," he told a press conference on Wednesday.

But the president insisted that the country could still achieve the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions even without such a bill, citing bipartisan agreement on developing natural gas, electric cars and nuclear energy.

"Cap and trade was just one way of skinning the cat," Obama said. "It was a means, not an end."

Outside the United States, the global climate change negotiations could also feel the chill from the outcome of the midterm elections.

"On the international front, the election results … will make progress toward international cooperation in the upcoming Cancun meetings, already difficult, even more problematic," Katherine Sierra, senior fellow at Brookings Institution, wrote in a recent article.

Another possible casualty of the power shift on the Capitol Hill will be the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007.

That authority, touted by Obama as a key tool to fulfill his promise under the Copenhagen Accord, will be challenged by Republicans in a new Congress.

The GOP has already locked the EPA as a target for some time and will certainly ramp up their fight to restrict the agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

According to analyses of the U.S. press, after Tuesday’s elections there appear to be at least 57 votes in the Senate for a measure to delay the EPA’s climate rules. That is 10 more votes than a similar measure had in June, when 47 senators supported a proposal by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to strip EPA of the authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Though Obama could veto such a measure, Republicans are still able to stop EPA regulation by explicitly blocking EPA’s funding to administer such regulations.

The New York Times said that the EPA was one of the biggest losers on Election Day, which is expected to be the target of bruising congressional attacks once the Republicans take control of the House.

Despite a bruising defeat in Washington, Obama may still take some comfort from the fact that several local carbon markets got a boost from the midterm elections.

In California, the defeat of Proposition 23 in the elections is seen as a good sign to boost green technology, bring more green jobs to the Golden State and open a market for foreign green products.

Proposition 23 was largely funded by the big oil to suspend Assembly Bill 32, California’s landmark legislation that rolls back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

On Tuesday, California voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, leaving Assembly Bill 32 intact and on schedule.

In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick was reelected, who survived a challenge from a candidate who questioned the state’s membership in the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. It is the country’s first regional cap-and-trade program.

In New York, which is also a member of RGGI, Democrat Andrew Cuomo won the gubernatorial race over an opponent who called global warming a "farce".

By Ren Haijun,