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Climate Bill Passes its First Hurdle Relatively Unscathed

May 22, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

I was expecting this to take even longer, but apparently Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee backed off their threats and posturing to delay progress on the Waxman-Markley climate change bill and it has been approved by the committee.

Kate Sheppard at Grist reports:

After months of grueling hearings and deliberations, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill by a vote of 33-25 on Thursday evening. It’s a landmark occasion, the first time a serious climate bill has made it this far in the House.

The vote fell largely along party lines, with only one Republican voting yes—Mary Bono Mack (Calif.)—and four Democrats voting no—John Barrow (Ga.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Charlie Melancon (La.), and Mike Ross (Ark.). But the Dems who did support the bill represent diverse constituencies—coal states, industrial districts, and agricultural areas, as well as coastal regions.

As the bill was debated this week, Republicans on the committee offered dozens of amendments intended to weaken it or kill it entirely, but Democrats stood united behind the bill, approving only one insignificant GOP amendment. That’s thanks to hard work done ahead of time by Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and his bill coauthor, Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who negotiated at length with moderate Democrats to craft a bill they could support. (Most Republicans had made it clear that their opposition to the bill was nonnegotiable.)

Democrats want to bring the bill to the full House floor sometime before Congress’s month-long August recess. First it has to move through several other committees, where, Sheppard notes, it will face many attempts at fundamental alteration and watering-down from both Democrats and Republicans. The Energy and Commerce Committee’s approval belies the bill’s actual vulnerability. For example, Congress Daily ($) reports that some Democrats that voted for the bill in the committee did so with plans to try to weaken it during full House consideration, for example by “softening the bill’s cap-and-trade 2020 emission reduction target.” Environmental groups like Greenpeace have already ditched the bill because, they say, its 17 percent reduction target by 2020 is too weak considering the climatic situation.

The bill as passed by the Energy and Commerce Committee is already much weaker than what many environmental advocate and many in the global community would prefer. The Economist, for example, points out that 85 percent of the carbon pollution permits under the bill’s cap-and-trade scheme will be given away for free rather than being sold at auction. This violates the basic “polluter pays” concept of environmental accounting that would protect the public from the costs of the program, and it takes away hundreds of billions that President Obama has been figuring into his budget numbers. Obama had been calling for 100 percent of the permits to be sold at auction with a big chuck of the revenues going into a program to help consumers pay for energy cost increases that will ensue form the legislation.

The bill’s supporters in Congress, of course, say that providing the permits for free is necessary to win the votes of members of Congress from coal-producing states and the like. But the end result is a bill that raises the deficit beyond President Obama’s budget outline (which means more taxes at some future point) and increases energy costs for consumers while giving massive handouts to big business.

Well, this one’s definitely worth following as it moves through the legislative maze. You can track the bill on OpenCongress by subscribing to its actions RSS feed or going to the bill page and adding it to your “My OpenCongress” account (click the “+” button on the tab at the top of the page). You can also subscribe through OpenCongress to RSS feeds for relevant news and blog coverage of the bill.

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