U.S. legislators’ imminent return to Capitol Hill next week, after their sometimes raucous health reform “town hall” meetings with constituents, is refocusing attention on expected near-term Senate action on energy/climate change legislation.

With Democratic Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid of Nevada having set end-of-September deadlines for committee actions on energy and climate – and with fewer than 100 days before the opening of key international climate talks in Copenhagen – all eyes are also on the clock.

As Goes Health Bill … So Goes … Maybe, Maybe Not

But first things first. And with the Congress and the Obama administration focusing first and foremost on health care reform – or “health insurance reform,” in the administration’s new preferred framing of the issue – many Hill watchers are painfully (or gleefully depending on one’s perspective) anticipating that as goes the health bill, so too may go the energy/climate bill.

(On the subject of framing or sound-biting a public policy issue, few will be surprised to find terms like “energy conservation” or “energy security” taking the place of “climate change” or “global warming” among many advocates for action.)

Writing on the issue from its Washington, D.C. bureau, the Los Angeles Times‘ Jim Tankersley August 30 wrote that “the battle could be just as nasty as the one over healthcare, and many of the groups opposing or supporting the energy proposals are gleaning lessons from the current fight.”

View larger image

One sure sign that the fight is nearing a critical stage on Capitol Hill is the flood of pro- and con- imperiled jobs vs. new green jobs TV commercials that have begun airing on television in key states.

Tankersley wrote that the challenge with the energy/climate bill is similar to the one that many believe proponents have bobbled with the health care bill: convince plain folks that the legislation “would tangibly improve their lives.” He pointed to a similarity between the health and energy/climate initiatives: “It’s hard to explain to voters and easy to demonize.”

Energy Less Personal, Less Emotional

But for those hoping past need not be prologue, Tankersley reported also that medical care is among the most personal, and energy “one of the least personal,” issues for Americans. One may wonder if that’s true when it comes to filling one’s gas tank, but that fundamental difference, Tankersley reported, could make a repeat of the health care brouhaha less likely.

Another difference between the two identified by Tankersley: people are less passionate about energy than healthcare. Maybe, “but that hasn’t stopped both opponents and supporters of the energy bill from mobilizing troops for public displays of fervor,” he reported.

With a short fuse before the Copenhagen talks open in early December – “emerging as the world’s last good chance to craft a new global warming deal” – Time magazine’s Bryan Walsh reported August 31 that negotiators are “far apart” and “there’s a growing fear that the world really could fumble the opportunity.”

“Things are in real doubt,” Walsh wrote, and politically feasible U.S. emission reduction goals, assuming they actually are legislated, still fall far short of European Union efforts.

A major split again, as with negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol expiring in 2012: differences between the developed and developing countries.

Quoting a U.N. official that “time is not on our side,” Walsh wrote that “environmentalists will need to make the most of what time does remain.”

O.K. But now square that judgment with a piece reported by David A. Farenthold that same day in a Washington Post article. The headline for that story: “Environmentalists Slow to Adjust in Climate Debate: Opponents Seize Initiative as Senate Bill Nears.”

It’ll all make for an interesting fall for climate/energy policy wonks tracking Capitol Hill.

Topics: Energy, Policy & Politics