This is mentioned in the Daily Grist, but Darren Samuelsohn has a great piece of reporting in Greenwire today. Juicy insider tidbits abound. It’s paid-subscription-only, so I’m poaching it for you to read here:

If Democrats take back the House or Senate this November, conventional wisdom says climate change would vault to the top of the congressional agenda. But the reality is more complicated.

Consider Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), front-runner to take the Energy and Commerce Committee gavel if Democrats control the House. The 26-term lawmaker would arguably be in the best position to dictate the pace of climate change in the next Congress, but he is far from convinced his panel can, or should, take a more aggressive tack on global warming.

"I think the scientific evidence is looking stronger every day," Dingell said in an interview last week. "But I don’t believe anybody has found a cure for it."

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Another top Democrat on the panel, Virginia’s Rick Boucher, currently the ranking member on the subcommittee that oversees climate issues, said economic hurdles and technological barriers to mandated greenhouse gas curbs are his top concerns.

The current energy panel chairman, Texas Republican Joe Barton, predicted Dingell as committee chairman would not move to change U.S. climate policies. "He and I would see eye to eye on that," said Barton, who — by the way — insisted Republicans would retain their grip on the House.

Current Democratic congressional leaders have stated that climate change would rise to the top of their agenda if their party takes control of the House or Senate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in an interview last week listed climate, energy policy, the economy and the war in Iraq as the top items on her legislative to-do list if she becomes House speaker.

Climate, Pelosi said, is "a critical part of our agenda."

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Pelosi referred specifically to a global-warming bill from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), which many environmentalists have identified as one of the few measures on Capitol Hill to take the steps necessary to avert irreversible changes to the Earth’s climate. Last month, Pelosi cosponsored the measure.

But Dingell thinks the Waxman proposal goes too far too fast. "I have reason to believe," he said, "it’s on the extreme side."

Competing factors

Several factors could affect how lawmakers handle global warming.

A report from more than 1,000 scientists on the United Nations Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change is due for release early next year. And open presidential primaries in both parties — the first since 1928 without a sitting president or vice president in contention — will be held in 2008 with campaigning expected to start in 2007. Among the White House hopefuls are candidates who have expressed support for mandatory caps on emissions.

And there are other intangibles: severe weather, an Oscar run by former Vice President Gore’s climate documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," and state efforts to adopt their own climate laws.

Former U.S. EPA Administrator Carol Browner predicted in an interview that Congress would act on climate next year if the Supreme Court rules next term that EPA has authority to regulate the most predominant greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, under the Clean Air Act.

"The last thing Congress wants, Democrat or Republican, is for EPA to set the standards," Browner said.

But Barton sees a Supreme Court ruling spurring lawmakers to move in the opposite direction. "I cannot imagine any objective finding that CO2 is a pollutant," he said. "If that’s true, God is a polluter."

Added Dingell: "I wrote [the Clean Air Act], and I was very careful to say it’s not."

When asked about the possibility of the Supreme Court taking a different view, Dingell replied: "I’d seriously doubt that."

‘Be all, end all’

Roger Ballentine, an energy and environment adviser to the Democrats’ 2004 presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), cautioned in a recent interview that the debate on Capitol Hill could get lost down in a jurisdictional maze, particularly if many committees with a stake in the matter — energy, agriculture, science and the environment — got involved.

"It starts looking like a health care bill, and that’s just hard as hell," Ballentine said.

Overall, Ballentine said next year could be the breaking point for legislation if advocates don’t go for broke. He said the top priority should be establishing a first-time price for U.S. industries that emit CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

"The notion the first climate change bill has to be the ‘be all, end all’ to get us on the path to 450 parts per million or 440 parts per million, that’d be nice," said Ballentine, in reference to the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that some scientists say is a critical threshold to stopping irreversible climate change. "But in my view, it’s not necessary you do that."

Many industry leaders might be open to a more moderate first step because of the regulatory certainty it would provide, Ballentine said. They also could help convince Republicans and even President Bush that now is the best time to create a market for greenhouse gas emissions.

"The only way you have a chance is if there’s a conversion in the business community, which is plausible, and realism on the side of the environmental community," Ballentine said.

If the Democrats did try to move a bill, it would face a key question of whether to address all sectors of the economy or to focus only on a single emissions source, such as coal-fired power plants.

There would also be debate on how to include fast-developing nations such as China and India in a new U.S. system, as well as what system to use so that industries can purchase credits as opposed to reducing their own emissions.

David Conover, a former Energy Department official in the Bush administration, said Congress would need to be the driving force to convince Bush to switch positions on mandatory emissions controls. More likely, Conover said, is continued debate through the 2008 White House race.

"It’s kind of a jump ball," Conover said, "but I’d lean toward final action in the 2009 time frame."

Copyright E&E Publishing, LLC. Reprinted with permission.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.