Obama Praises Energy Bill But Critical Of Tariff

(CBS/AP)
President Obama will give discuss energy policy this afternoon, just days after the House of Representatives passed landmark climate change and energy legislation.

The president strongly advocated for the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, but in an interview with reporters over the weekend, his review of the bill was mixed.

Mr. Obama called the bill an "extraordinary first step," according to the Washington Post, that would make renewable energy "a driver of economic growth."

He said the flexibility built into the bill enabled moderates to support the measure -- the first ever to impose a federal price on carbon.

"Finding the right balance between providing new incentives to businesses but not giving away the store is always an art, it's not a science," he said, the Post reported. "But, on balance, I think what we have with this legislation is a bill that business can embrace but is tough enough that by 2020 we will have seen significant reductions in carbon emissions."

The bill calls for a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 from 2005 levels and an 83 percent reduction by 2050. The legislation aims to meet that goal by instituting a price on carbon emissions through a "cap-and-trade" system, which would enable industries to buy and trade permits that allow them to emit certain levels of carbon. However, about 85 percent of the permits would be given away -- an example of the significant compromises orchestrated to gain broader support for the bill.

The bill passed by a narrow margin, with a vote of 219 to 212. While eight Republicans voted for it, 44 Democrats voted against it.

"I think those 44 Democrats are sensitive to the immediate political climate of uncertainty around this issue," Mr. Obama said, according to the Post. "They've got to run every two years, and I completely understand that."

The New York Times called the vote "an important, if tentative, victory for the president." The Times emphasized that the legislation will be even more difficult to get through the Senate, which Mr. Obama acknowledged. The president, the newspaper reported, spoke out against a provision in the bill that would impose a tariff on certain goods from countries that are not also limiting their own global warming emissions.

"At a time when the economy worldwide is still deep in recession and we've seen a significant drop in global trade," Mr. Obama said, the Times reported. "I think we have to be very careful about sending any protectionist signals out there."

He added, "I think there may be other ways of doing it than with a tariff approach."

The Times noted that Mr. Obama "has sometimes sent mixed signals about his attitude toward free trade," and has let Congress negotiate the details of the legislation.

In spite of the tariff provision, the president said the measure would spark innovation and jobs, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"What seems contentious now is going to seem like common sense in hindsight," the president reportedly said.

The LA Times also said Mr. Obama "sounded optimistic" about the bill's chances in the Senate.

The Wall Street Journal, however, highlighted recent remarks from senators cynical about the horse-trading that will have to take place.

"It was a struggle to get [climate legislation] through the House, and there's no reason to think it will be any different in the Senate," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), according to the Journal. Boxer chairs a panel with jurisdiction over climate legislation.

Noting Republican criticism of the bill, the Journal quotes Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa): "You're going to find signs on manufacturing doors, if this bill passes, that say, 'Moved, gone to China,'" Grassley said on ABC's "This Week."

The Journal points out that Mr. Obama did not say in his interview with reporters whether he would veto the bill if the tariff provision remained a part of it.

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