This bill has faced strong opposition and it could be said will need all the support it can get from key environmental supporters in the US. Edward Kennedy was a popular statesman and a strong champion of the environment and, as such, his support will be sorely missed.
The Copenhagen climate change summit, which will be the latest in an annual series of UN meetings that trace their origins back to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, are aimed at coordinating international action against climate change.
In these summits, developing countries, including China and India, have voiced their belief that it is the responsibility of wealthy industrialized nations such as the UK and US to set a clear example on cutting carbon emissions. Significantly, the US rejected the 1997 Kyoto protocol, with George Bush arguing that the 5 per cent reductions required by Kyoto would "wreck [the American] economy" while making no demands on emerging economies. The Copenhagen summit's chances of success have been improved by President Obama's stated intention to pass a climate-change bill that aims to achieve an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
This bill has travelled a rocky path so far. In June, the House of Representatives backed the 1,200-page legislation which will bind the US to cutting carbon emissions by 17% from 2005 levels in 2020 and 83% in 2050. It will also set up a national cap and trade system, and require power companies to produce 15 per cent of their electricity from wind and solar energy. But this backing was hard-won. By the time of the vote, the Democratic leadership had made several major concessions to win support from party refuseniks, weakening the bill. Several environmental organizations admitted they were disappointed: Greenpeace even called on the Congress to reject it. During this time, Obama made three appeals to Congress to deliver the bill.
The next step will be for the bill to clear the Senate and it is here that it has lost a reliable supporter following the death of Edward Kennedy.
Kennedy was a champion of the environment and a leading proponent of clean energy. He was a strong advocate for clean air, clean water, and wilderness protection. He supported mass transit and better fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks. Kennedy consistently placed public interest above corporate greed, fighting to end government subsidies for oil companies and calling for environmental justice for low-income families who were battling air, water and soil pollution in their neighbourhoods. He was also a strong supporter of clean, renewable energy and a green economy.
It will take months to get a replacement for Kennedy in the Senate. Although he called on Massachusetts state lawmakers to change the rules in order for the governor to appoint an immediate successor, so far they have not acted. The state is expected to hold a special election to fill Kennedy's seat in January but that will be after the Copenhagen summit has taken place.