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Climate Bill Needed to 'Save Our Planet,' Says Obama


By Darren Samuelsohn
New York Times
February 25, 2009


President Obama lent his voice last night to the push for a mandatory cap on
greenhouse gas emissions, using his first speech to a joint session of Congress
to lobby for controversial legislation sure to spark a heated debate during
tight economic times.

A blog about energy, the environment and the bottom line.

Go to Blog Obama campaigned for president last year with climate change and
energy issues atop his agenda. And he returned to those themes yesterday, saying
that a cap-and-trade bill would help spark economic recovery by giving U.S.
companies greater incentive to start producing more wind turbines, solar panels,
biofuels and battery-powered automobiles.

"To truly transform our economy, to protect our security, and save our planet
from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable
energy the profitable kind of energy," Obama said in his address (pdf) to
Congress. "So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a
market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable
energy in America. That's what we need."

In his next breath, the president teased a key climate-related component in his
upcoming budget proposal to Congress. "To support that innovation, we will
invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar
power, advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more efficient cars and trucks built
right here in America," Obama said, referring to a budget plan that would assume
government revenue from the allowances sold to companies for compliance with the
cap-and-trade system.

Obama also appealed to lawmakers by acknowledging the difficulties associated
with voting on a climate plan that is sure to carry a large price tag. "None of
this will come without cost, nor will it be easy," the president said. "But this
is America. We don't do what's easy. We do what's necessary to move this country forward."

Nearly all House and Senate Democrats gave Obama a standing ovation for his
climate change comments, with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) even turning behind
him to give a high five to Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). A small group of moderate Senate Republicans also rose
at Obama's mention of cap-and-trade legislation, including Susan Collins and
Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mel Martinez of
Florida, and John McCain of Arizona.

Just getting started

Obama's global warming comments lacked many of the specifics that will surely be
at the center of the Capitol Hill debate set to unfold over the next several
months. The president also stayed well clear of the looming question of whether
to combine energy and climate change bills into one big package or splinter them
into separate pieces.

Instead, Obama stuck to general themes, lumping energy in with health care and
education as "the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future."

Advocates of cap-and-trade legislation welcomed the president's remarks and
pledged in varying degrees that they would soon deliver a major climate bill for his signature.

"President Obama asked Congress for legislation that places a market-based cap
on carbon pollution and we intend to give it to him," said Rep. Ed Markey
(D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, which
will be the point of origin for the legislation.

"It is extremely helpful," Boxer added. "He has asked Congress to come forward,
so we are very ready and my committee is very ready to do that."

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) predicted Obama was only getting started in his appeals
for support on climate change. "When he used the term the 'ravages of climate
change' he is clearly talking passionately about this issue," Udall said. "He
clearly believes in this issue and I think we are going to see him push in a big
way, in a bold way, to get something done."

Leaders on both sides of Capitol Hill have sent signals they too are ready to
meet Obama's request.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said earlier this week that he wants
to hold a floor debate on a bipartisan climate bill by the end of the summer,
specifically singling out McCain as a Republican who he is looking to for
support. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also pledged a
first-ever climate vote this year on cap-and-trade legislation that Energy and
Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) expects to mark up before Memorial Day
(E&E Daily, Feb. 9).

But Republican leaders, as well as several rank-and-file members, suggested last
night that they have no plans to line up behind Obama's climate agenda.

"We need to lead the country on the basis of a sound economic energy policy,"
said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). "We cannot exist by thinking we
can tax our way into the future. You may very well close out the manufacturing
sector to this economy if we're not careful. We've got to strike the right
balance in terms of energy and environmental policy."

'Cap and trade won't work'

As the climate debate proceeds, Obama's biggest challenge may be winning over
lawmakers who represent districts and states with large industrial bases.

 

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