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Climate Change Bill Faces Hurdles Due To GOP, Some Dems

(AP Photo/Gene Blythe)
Under their self-imposed deadline, House Democrats have until the end of this week to finalize a comprehensive energy and climate change bill. To do so, they'll have to deal with 23 Republicans who have united to stall the legislation by offering an alternative version and possibly more than 400 amendments.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee kicked off today what is likely to be a long and arduous process of altering the "American Clean Energy and Security Act" so that it can win committee approval. Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), one of the lead sponsors of the bill, has said he wants the bill to be ready for a full House vote by Memorial Day.

In order to achieve his goal, Waxman must ensure no more than six Democrats on the committee vote against the bill. During today's meeting, however, some Democrats raised previously unvoiced objections, according to The Hill.

The 932-page bill seeks a 17 percent reduction, by the year 2020, in carbon and other polluting emissions from 2005 levels. The legislation aims to meet that goal by imposing a renewable electricity standard. It would also put 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.

A number of compromises have already been worked into the legislation. To appease members of Congress worried that the bill will increase energy costs for consumers, the bill now allocates about $10 billion in revenues from the cap-and-trade permit auctions to help low-income Americans offset the cost of their energy bills. For those concerned how the bill would impact carbon-emitting industries, not all of the permits will be auctioned -- a portion of the permits will be given away to impacted industries. For instance, the electricity sector will receive 35 percent of its allowances for free.

The 23 Republicans on the energy committee, however, remain solidly opposed to the bill. On Friday, they sent a letter to Waxman asking for at least one hearing to address the allocation of the pollution permits.

"What is the hurry?" the letter asks, referring to the Memorial Day deadline. "If we wanted a bill sure to embarrass our committee, this is precisely the process we would adopt to create one."

Dead set on stalling the bill, the Republicans are offering an alternative bill and plan to drag out this week's committee discussion with a variety of amendments. One amendment, in a clear jab at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), would make the Presidio - a national park in Pelosi's San Francisco district - a carbon capture and storage facility.

Dozens of possible amendments address the economic concerns behind the bill and would suspend the act should it result in job losses in various states. For instance, one potential amendment would suspend it if more than 5,000 jobs in West Virginia were lost due to its implementation. Amendments could also be offered to allow states to opt out of the act.

Other amendments would surely anger environmentalists, such as one to end restrictions on incremental hydropower construction on wild and scenic waterways, or one that seeks less ambitious emissions reduction goals. While the bill in its current state focuses on stimulating alternative energy industries like wind and solar, one possible amendment would ensure that coal plants currently under construction are able to be completed.

Republican leaders have said they intend to stall the bill in committee for months. If they succeed, they could hang up one of President Obama's top priorities.

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Mr. Obama called the legislation a "historic" agreement.

"It's a plan that will finally reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and cap the carbon pollution that threatens our health and our climate," he said. "Most important, it's a plan that will trigger the creation of millions of new jobs for Americans."

Regardless of how far the bill gets in the House this week, however, complementary legislation in the Senate has yet to gain much momentum. The newspaper Roll Call quoted a senior Senate Democratic aide on Monday who said, "There are a substantial number of moderate Democrats who are uneasy at best" with the House legislation.