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Obama Makes Bold Climate Bill Prediction: 'We'll Get It Done'

By Datten Samuelsohn
New York Times
March 25, 2009


President Obama struck an optimistic note last night on the prospects for
signing a major global warming law, pledging also to craft a bill that takes
into account economic concerns and the country's regional differences over
energy production.

In his second primetime news conference since taking office, Obama
nudged Congress to focus its attention on passing cap-and-trade legislation
through regular order rather than get tangled up on the measure during a
preliminary debate this month over the nonbinding budget resolution.

"Our point in the budget is let's get started now," Obama said. "We can't wait.
And my expectation is that the energy committees, or other relevant committees,
in both the House and the Senate, are going to be moving forward a strong energy
package. It'll be authorized. We'll get it done. And I will sign it."

Obama last month sent Congress a budget blueprint that included specific
emission limits and some detailed recommendations for how to distribute hundreds
of billions of dollars in new government revenue generated through the
implementation of his cap-and-trade plan.

But the president acknowledged that even those specifics do not need to be
reflected in the budget resolution that the House and Senate budget committees
are voting on this week. "We never expected when we printed out our budget that
they would simply Xerox it and vote on it," Obama said.

Pressed last night to explain how wedded he is to his energy and climate change
agenda, Obama replied by focusing on the long-term implications of a more
aggressive U.S. global warming policy.

"When it comes to cap and trade, the broader principle is that we've got to move
to a new energy era," he said. "That means moving away from polluting energy
sources toward cleaner energy sources. That's a potential engine for economic
growth. I think cap and trade is the best way, from my perspective, to achieve
some of those gains, because what it does is it starts pricing the pollution
that's being sent into the atmosphere."

Obama also offered an olive branch to congressional Democrats who have expressed
concern over key details of the cap-and-trade approach, including lawmakers who
represent states and districts that are heavily dependent on coal and
manufacturing industries. "The way it's structured, it has to take into account
regional differences, it has to protect consumers from huge spikes in
electricity prices," Obama said. "So there are a lot of technical issues that
are going to have to be sorted through."

The president did not offer a timeline for when he wants to sign the energy and
climate law. And he also did not mention possible federal regulations for
greenhouse gases at U.S. EPA under a nearly two-year-old Supreme Court precedent
that requires the agency to issue emission control rules should it determine
that climate change threatens public health or welfare.

The White House Office of Management and Budget last Friday started its review
of a proposed EPA finding that makes that very connection Greenwire, March 23).
All eyes on the House

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are deep into the technical cap-and-trade issues that
the president teased during his news conference.

In the House Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, Democratic staff are
preparing a draft bill on energy and cap and trade that they expect to release
before lawmakers break on April 3 for the spring recess.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, plans a markup of the bill
before Memorial Day. Yesterday, Waxman said his bill would stick to his core
principles for curbing emissions while also addressing the same regional and
economic concerns that Obama promised to tackle.

"We're going to have to walk through all these issues," Waxman said. "We need to
achieve environmental results scientists tell us are necessary, but we have to
do it in a way that recognizes the various regional concerns and concerns about
how different portions of the population are going to be effected."

There is little doubt that Waxman and Obama will face vocal opposition from some
key Republican leaders.

"They're in a real dilemma," Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the ranking member of
the Energy and Commerce Committee, said last week. "When they put it out, all
hell is going to break loose. And if they don't put it out, they're going to be
accused of foot dragging by the environmental radicals."

In the Senate, key Democratic members are largely holding back on specifics for
their own climate plan out of deference to Waxman and House Democratic leaders.
"I assume the House is going to go first, and we're looking forward to whatever
they're going to produce," said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has also
consistently sidestepped questions about her schedule for writing a climate
bill. "It hasn't been decided," she told reporters last week. "It's a very fluid strategy."

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) credited Boxer for being circumspect about
her legislative plans. "I think she's smart," Murkowski said. "Why put yourself
into a box when you don't have to on the timing? I think we all recognize that
this is difficult and complicated. And as soon as you put a deadline out there,
it's ... going to be an artificial timeframe that you cannot meet. So you set
yourself up to fail before you've even begun."

Looking ahead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he is not
planning to pick any one lawmaker to be the Senate shepherd on the energy and
climate issue. Instead, Reid said he planned to leave the climate and energy
issue to Boxer, Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and
Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

"I think we have three people who will, according to what part of the bill we're
on," Reid said.

 

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