Barbara BoxerSen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, is now telling reporters that she won’t have a climate and energy bill ready for a vote in her committee until September, a significant delay for the legislation.

Just a few days ago, her staff was outlining goals for getting legislation ready in the next few weeks, planning for a vote in early August. Now Boxer says they won’t even release their plan until after the August congressional recess, which runs from Aug. 8 to Sept. 7.

“We don’t have to rush it through,” Boxer told reporters ($ub req’d). “We’ll do it as soon as we get back [from recess], and we’ll have it at the desk when Harry wants it, when the leader wants it.”

She’s referring, of course, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is also delaying the time frame for Senate movement on a climate bill.  Yesterday he bumped his deadline for committee action on a bill back by 10 days to Sept. 28. By that date, he wants all six committees with jurisdiction to have concluded markup of their components of a climate plan. Reid said he pushed the date back to give legislators more time to work out differences over the bill.

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Asked whether the delay would be a major setback for the the bill, Boxer was dismissive. “Not a bit … we’ll be in until Christmas, so I’m not worried about it,” she said.

There is, however, the looming deadline of international climate talks in Copenhagen in mid-December, by which time Congress needs to act if the U.S. is to demonstrate to world leaders that it is committed to emission reductions.

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Boxer would not guarantee that Congress would have a plan finalized by that time.  “I want to take this as far as we can take it [before Copenhagen]. The more we do, the better,” Boxer said.

The delay bodes ill for passing a climate bill this year.  It shows leaders are not confident they would have enough votes to pass the bill and want as much time as possible to rally support. Boxer also noted that many key senators with a role in crafting climate policy are also leading the debate over health care, another major congressional priority for this year.

UPDATE: Several environmental groups have written in to say that they think today’s announcement is good news for climate legislation.

“We don’t think that this is a problem at all,” said Josh Dorner, spokesman for Sierra Club. “In fact, we think it’s a good thing. It’s a huge organizing opportunity, both here in D.C. and in the field. It also shows they are taking the time to make some meaningful, positive changes to the bill.”

Environmental Defense Fund was equally optimistic. “From our perspective, this is the right decision,” said Tony Kreindler, media director for climate at EDF. “It gives senators more time to review and understand the historic bill just passed by the House. It signals a serious intent to seek agreements on key issues going forward.  And it gives Boxer and her colleagues on both sides of the aisle more time to reach those agreements. After all, the chairman has the ability to move forward today if the goal were simply to push any bill through.”