Boxer: Low 2009 Greenhouse Emissions Could Be Politically Useful

Not many surprises this morning at the first of three mega climate hearings at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Barbara Boxer (D–CA) though some early confirmations of suspected fault lines between Democrats on the bill. A particularly important Democratic lawmaker is Max Baucus of the coal state of Montana. From Congress Daily (subs. required):

Baucus said he has "serious reservations" about the bill's requirement
that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions be reduced 20 percent below 2005 levels
by 2020, a higher goal than the 17 percent reduction by 2020 target in a
House-passed bill and the 14 percent level once suggested by President

Boxer said afterwards Baucus might be convinced to support the bill's 2020
target because the economic slump this year has reduced U.S. greenhouse gas
emissions by 8 percent. "I think once he sees the fact that we're already
down 8 percent, that 20 percent target is way lower," Boxer said. "So I
think we're going to be talking to them about that."

The quote is convoluted. What Boxer is saying is that the 20% goal by 2020 isn't less difficult if we are already down by 8% compared with last year because of the economic slowdown. The problem with this line of argument, of course, is that emissions could very well bounce back to 2008 levels in a year or two as the economy recovers—and could in fact then rebound to continue the growth in greenhouse emissions that have marked the last 50 years. Boxer's bill uses 2005 as the baseline, anyway, so a low year between then and now doesn't change the fact that making that 2020 goal might be difficult.