Four key members of the House Energy and Commerce committee sent a letter to President Obama Friday (full text below) embracing the urgent need for climate action:
We represent different regions of the country and approach energy issues from different perspectives, but we are united in the view that now is the time for Congress to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation….
As scientists learn about the dangers of “tipping points” in the global ecosystem and their potentially disastrous consequences, the need for decisive efforts grows increasingly urgent.
Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chair Ed Markey (D-MA) — who will release a draft energy and climate bill Tuesday — were joined by the two people they dethroned (see here and here) in this call for action.
Unfortunately, they seem to embrace the relatively wimpy US Climate Action Partnership proposal (see “NRDC and EDF endorse the weak, coal-friendly, rip-offset-heavy USCAP climate plan”):
In January, a coalition of electric utilities, manufacturers, energy companies, and car makers joined with environmental groups in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership to recommend a market-based solution that builds on the approach used successfully in the Clean Air Act to reduce acid rain. Their proposal establishes a ceiling on global warming pollution that declines gradually over time, providing environmental and economic certainty while giving industry flexibility to implement the lowest-cost pollution control measures.
We’ll learn tomorrow how close the Waxman-Markey bill is to the inadequate USCAP proposal. Still, getting Dingell and Boucher to sign this letter is I think pretty impressive and means a House bill is inevitable.
At the end of this post, I’ll excerpt today’s E&E Daily (subs. req’d) story for junkies who want more discussion of the politics of energy and climate legislation in the House and how House action might affect prospects in the Senate.
Here is the full letter:
Dear Mr. President:
We represent different regions of the country and approach energy issues from different perspectives, but we are united in the view that now is the time for Congress to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation. And we are working together to meet that goal.
Three imperatives — our energy, environment, and economic needs — drive our commitment to action. The energy imperative we face is to diversify the nation’s energy supplies and reduce our foreign dependence, especially on oil from the Middle East, which imperils our national security. The environmental imperative is to protect the planet from global warming. As scientists learn about the dangers of “tipping points” in the global ecosystem and their potentially disastrous consequences, the need for decisive efforts grows increasingly urgent.
And the economic imperative is to provide an engine to drive the nation out of the recession. The economic recovery package is an important step because it invests billions of dollars in clean energy technologies. But government can’t force a transition to a clean economy by itself. At most, it can serve as a catalyst for investment by the private sector.
Unfortunately, the private sector is frozen because of uncertainty. Our power companies are caught in a dilemma: they are reluctant to invest in old polluting technologies because they know that tougher regulations are inevitable, but they can’t invest in new, cleaner technologies until they know what Congress is going to require. Automobile manufacturers and oil companies are delivering the same message: tell us what the ground rules will be so we can plan sensible investments.
While there are many details to be resolved, the contours for building a political consensus are evident. In January, a coalition of electric utilities, manufacturers, energy companies, and car makers joined with environmental groups in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership to recommend a market-based solution that builds on the approach used successfully in the Clean Air Act to reduce acid rain. Their proposal establishes a ceiling on global warming pollution that declines gradually over time, providing environmental and economic certainty while giving industry flexibility to implement the lowest-cost pollution control measures.
An essential part of the legislation will be building a bridge to our clean energy future. We will need to make investments in new clean energy technologies, find ways to spur the development of carbon capture and sequestration, prevent the dislocation of industrial sectors including those vulnerable to trade, mitigate the effects on consumers, and assure that the costs of the program are economically sustainable. These objectives can be achieved if we are smart about overall program design and the allocation of tradable emission allowances.
Energy and environment issues have a unique regional component. Solutions that make sense in Southern California can impose large costs in Southwest Virginia. We can overcome these geographic differences, but using the budget reconciliation process, which curtails Senate filibuster rights, could arouse regional distrust and make reaching agreement harder. Hearings, markups, and regular order are the best way to forge the compromises that will unite members from all parts of the country. As we work to achieve this consensus, we hope Republican members of our committee and of the full House will join the process too, so that truly bipartisan answers can be developed.
We believe comprehensive energy legislation is both economically and politically achievable. The costs of significant reductions in carbon emissions have been estimated to be in the range of $40 to $80 billion per year over the next ten years. Twenty years ago, when we were debating the Clean Air Act, compliance costs were projected by industry to be over $100 billion per year. Yet Congress succeeded in crafting strong clean air legislation that passed the House 401 to 25.
The Clean Air Act experience shows that Congress, through the committee process and regular order, can successfully resolve seemingly intractable environmental problems. When Congress debated capping the sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants that cause acid rain, we were told achieving reductions in these emissions would cost up to $1,500 per ton. In fact, the market-based mechanisms we enacted cut emissions in half at a cost of less than $250 per ton. We are determined to find similar solutions to our energy and climate challenges and enact an economically responsible emissions reduction law.
Our districts could hardly be more different: one is rural, coal producing with a predominance of basic industry; one is urban, affluent, and a growing market for solar and wind energy; one is suburban, with a mix of working families and high tech energy innovators; and one is suburban, middle-class with a large manufacturing workforce and many union members. But our districts — and the entire nation — urgently need comprehensive energy legislation that provides a pathway to private sector energy investments, energy independence, and a safe climate.
As we proceed, we look forward to working closely with you, senior Administration officials, and our colleagues in the House and the Senate to build broad support for this effort. We thank you for your leadership in addressing these challenges.
Henry A. Waxman, Chairman
John Dingell, Chairman Emeritus
Edward J. Markey, Chairman, Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment
Rick Boucher, Chairman, Subcommittee on Environment, Communications, Technology and the Internet
And here are excerpts from the E&E Daily story,”House takes its turn leading cap-and-trade debate”:
With committee votes on their legislation expected in May, the stakes could not be higher for Waxman and Markey as they head into negotiations with their fellow Democrats and any interested Republicans. Obama’s overall agenda is increasingly being questioned for trying to take on too much amid the largest global economic crisis since the Great Depression. And public opinion polls show global warming continues to rank near the bottom of the list of concerns for American voters.
For now, the Obama administration is willing to let the debate play itself out in the House, where the political dynamics favor passage in the 435-seat chamber even though the long-term prospects remain murky in the Senate. U.S. EPA — which has a two-year-old Supreme Court mandate clearing it to write climate rules — has quietly been helping Waxman with technical support on his draft legislation.
Speaking last month with reporters, Waxman acknowledged that his work could even help jump-start debate on the other side of Capitol Hill. “A bill that will emerge from our committee is a bill that I think can pass the House and may well be a model for the Senate,” Waxman said. “But don’t tell them I said that, because they’ll want to do their own bill and see us in conference. That’s fine, too. That’s the regular way we accomplish things here.”
The one-bill strategy
The Energy and Commerce Committee will be the first big test for an issue that could become a central battleground for the 2010 midterm elections.
Democrats hold a 36–23 advantage over Republicans, meaning the chairman can only lose votes from six of his own members and still pass the bill absent any surprise GOP defections. A handful of moderate Republicans are expected to show interest in the issue, but the party’s leaders and most rank-and-file members have already switched into opposition mode, dubbing the Obama-led climate proposal an expensive new tax on households and businesses.
For House Democrats, the goal is unity.
In a letter sent to Obama on Friday, Waxman and Markey secured support for their effort from two critical voices in the climate and energy debate: former full committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and former subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.).
“We represent different regions of the country and approach energy issues from different perspectives, but we are united in the view that now is the time for Congress to pass energy and climate legislation,” the congressmen wrote Obama.
The lawmakers’ letter suggested they would be doing some hard bargaining in the coming weeks to win over their own members — a recognition of sorts to Obama’s own pledge to take into account both regional and economic concerns for a climate bill. But the Waxman-Markey draft is likely to punt on some key issues, including how to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in emission allowances.
Boucher said last week that he expects to resolve any differences by the Memorial Day target that Waxman has set for a committee markup. Other Democratic committee members from industrial districts say they are ready to negotiate with their panel’s leaders. “As long as they don’t try to just run over us, we can work things out,” said Rep. Gene Greene (D-Texas), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Going forward, Waxman and Markey are banking on a combined energy and climate bill to build support for their legislation. Aides explain that the measure offers a new way of thinking compared with previous and more limited attempts in the Senate. The economic models, for example, will show that combining cap-and-trade legislation with an RES and the energy efficiency programs can lower compliance costs for households and industry.
The Democrats also plan to appeal to their colleagues with the argument that costs to the U.S. economy by not acting to curb emissions is something that many earlier studies failed to account for. “A benefit of going first is a lot of the stale economic arguments … will no longer apply,” said a House Democratic aide working on the climate and energy bill.
Warnings of a ‘radical’ House bill
There is a sense of pride among some House Democrats that they are going before the Senate this time.
“We’re in a lot stronger position than the Senate, and I’m not just talking about the rules,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “I’m talking about leadership and capacity. The speaker has been amazing on this for what, two-and-a-half years, and that gives us a real leg up.”
“Frankly, if you want to get something done, why wouldn’t you start off where you’re procedural setting is the strongest, where the politics are the strongest, and where the substance, the most expert staff, is located?” added a former Democratic aide to the Energy and Commerce Committee. “You’ve got three reasons to do it that way. It makes sense. How many times have we seen a bill written first in the Senate and become law?”
Across Capitol Hill, senators are keeping a close eye on Waxman’s panel. Senate committee leaders, including Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), met earlier this month to discuss strategy with Waxman and Markey. They welcome the House’s effort as a signal of what is possible to accomplish while insisting that their efforts will also be original.
“We’re going to do our continued work here,” Kerry said. “I don’t know if backseat is the right word. We’re sort of both driving in the same direction.”
The House’s work may even help color in the battle lines.
“I see a lot of similarities in the House and Senate’s reactions to cap and trade and a comprehensive energy bill,” said Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a congressman for 10 years before winning the Senate seat last fall. “You have regional and state interests that are reflected in both bodies.”
Some Senate Republicans warned the House Democrats’ finished product could poison the debate.
“It could work the other way around,” said Senate Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a congressman from 1981–1989. “A bill coming out of the House could be very radical.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), also a former congressman, said he has no plans to be a rubber stamp for what comes out of the House. “Henry Waxman isn’t known for bipartisan legislation,” Graham said. “And the Senate will not get a cap-and-trade bill that doesn’t have some serious bipartisan buy in. You don’t need that in the House. So the product that comes from the House invariably is a winner-take-all bill. And the product that comes from the Senate that gets 60 votes has to be a bipartisan compromise.”
Blumenauer dismissed the Republicans’ concerns that the House bill will not be realistic. “I think people who are looking for excuses to not be responsible can find excuses,” he said. “But it will not be a radical bill that goes through the House.”
Several House Democrats insisted that they are cognizant of the Senate dynamics, where three times over the last eight years floor votes fell well short of the 60-vote tally needed to defeat a filibuster.
“We probably can’t move forward if there’s a feeling that we’re simply passing a bill that the Senate will never act on,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). “We have to send the Senate a stronger bill than it ultimately approves. But there has to be a feeling that the Senate can come together and approve something.”