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House Dems Narrow Energy, Climate Bill Differences


By Dina Cappiello
The Associated Press
May 5, 2009


Key lawmakers agreed Tuesday on a strategy for replacing
gas-guzzling cars with more fuel-efficient models, but much tougher negotiations
lie ahead on a bill that would, for the first time, limit emissions linked to global warming.

President Barack Obama summoned three dozen House Democrats to the White House
to build consensus around climate and energy legislation that is under
increasing criticism from Republicans and members of his own party.

The administration has endorsed the bill broadly, saying it would advance key
parts of the president's domestic agenda, namely slowing global warming and
transitioning to a clean energy economy.

But the details have largely been left to the House Energy committee, which is
still working on the final language and has postponed a vote due to cost
concerns raised by the panel's moderate Democrats.

Committee members emerged from the meeting Tuesday claiming a modest victory.

They said they agreed to embrace a "cash for clunkers" plan that would provide
$3500 or $4500 to people who replace old, low-efficiency cars with new, more
fuel-efficient models.

But they acknowledged that tougher matters remain, and that some of the
resistance was coming from Democrats from coal- and oil-producing states that
could struggle to meet the bill's mandates for pollution reductions and
renewable electricity generation.

"Our committee is attempting to develop a consensus," committee chairman Henry
Waxman, D-Calif., told reporters after the White House meeting. All but two of
the committee's 36 Democrats attended. "Many of the issues split us along a
regional basis. But we're talking to each other."

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who pushed for the "cash for clunkers" provision,
said its inclusion in the bill does not guarantee he will support the
legislation in its entirety.

"I want to be supportive and am doing my utmost to ensure we have a bill that I
can support and that all democrats can support," said Dingell, who was replaced
by Waxman as committee chairman this year. "However, I cannot commit to a yes
vote until these other pieces are finalized."

Chief among the loose ends is a "cap and trade" proposal that would set a
ceiling and put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Companies could either
purchase or receive their allowance for free, and then buy or sell portions of
their allotment to meet emissions limits.

Obama's budget expects to raise $650 billion by auctioning off all the
allowances to companies that release heat-trapping gases, with the bulk of the
money going back to families to help with higher energy prices.

Democrats from coal and industrial states are pushing Waxman and his co-sponsor,
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., to distribute at least some of those permits for free
to ease costs.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama believes consumers and
communities "should be compensated if during the transition period there are any
additional costs associated with reducing carbon emissions."

Gibbs also said Obama wants "predictability and certainty in the market" to
encourage investments in "clean energy innovation."

As the Democrats met with Obama, House Republicans gathered at the Capitol for
an energy summit to criticize the Waxman-Markey bill, which they said would
create a national energy tax and hurt middle-class families and small
businesses. Similar meetings are being planned this month in Pittsburgh,
Indianapolis and California before Republicans roll out their own plans to curb
fossil fuel use and clean up the environment.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said Tuesday that Republicans will look for commonsense
solutions to lower energy costs, increase energy supply and create jobs. But he
also acknowledged that part of their mission was to stop the "profoundly bad
idea" of cap and trade.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of seven House members, including two energy
committee Republicans, unveiled their own legislation Tuesday.

The American Conservation and Clean Energy Independence Act an update of a
bill introduced last year would pay for the transition to cleaner energy
sources using royalties from expanded oil and gas production offshore and on
other federal lands.

At a news conference introducing the bill, Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, said
progress on the Waxman-Markey bill which would limit greenhouse gases by
putting a price on heat-trapping pollution was "essentially stalled."

Waxman said he wants the committee to conclude a climate bill by Memorial Day so
it can move to its other big priority: tackling Obama's proposal to revamp the
nation's health care system.

 

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