House Democrats at Odds Over Energy Bill Provisions

Nancy Pelosi must decide whether to delay new fuel efficiency rules until a climate change bill in the fall.
Nancy Pelosi must decide whether to delay new fuel efficiency rules until a climate change bill in the fall. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)

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By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 28, 2007

Just before the July 4 deadline she set for coming up with an "energy independence" package of legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to pull together the pieces of an energy bill from 10 committees and warring Democratic leaders.

As committees raced to wrap up bills yesterday before Monday's recess, the Democratic strategy remained unclear.

The energy bill under consideration by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, omitted any mention of vehicle fuel efficiency standards or mandates for massive biofuels production, major elements of the Senate bill adopted last week. That will make negotiating a final bill with the Senate tricky.

Furthermore, Democratic leaders said yesterday that they would push for a climate change bill later this year, raising further uncertainty about what items would be added to an energy bill now and which ones might be left for the climate change bill.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (Mich.) yesterday urged lawmakers to leave tough issues -- such as motor vehicle fuel economy, coal-to-liquids incentives and a renewable portfolio standard -- out of the current bill. "These issues will be addressed in the fall in the context of comprehensive climate change legislation," he said. He pledged to set goals later for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 60 to 80 percent by 2050.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of a subcommittee of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and the subcommittee's ranking Republican, Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), said they would draw up a bill to put a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions and allow companies to trade allowances to comply with the limits. Their support improves the prospects for such legislation. Ford and Chrysler yesterday joined a coalition promoting such a system, known as cap and trade.

One issue up in the air in the House maneuvering: higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. Dingell, a longtime opponent of higher mileage requirements and an ally of the automobile industry, wants to make auto fuel usage part of a broad climate change bill later in the year. But the chances of getting a complex climate change bill through Congress and then President Bush signing it are much more remote than adopting a more modest energy bill.

Kevin Book, a policy analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey, said that in the fall partisanship will intensify because Congress will be dealing with the Iraq war funding and troop levels. "Is this the environment for an ambitious climate change bill? Our crystal ball says no," Book said. Some supporters of higher fuel efficiency targets believe that is the point of Dingell's plan.

Pelosi (Calif.), who met with Dingell yesterday, might indicate her preferences today at a news conference on the energy package. The speaker backs higher fuel efficiency requirements, and she must choose whether to encourage similarly minded Democrats to add a mileage amendment to an energy bill on the floor of the House now or wait for a climate change bill. Pelosi aides stressed earlier this week that the speaker viewed "this package as a first step" and planned on a second bill this fall.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, is also in an awkward position. His committee cannot draw up legislation so he needs Dingell's cooperation for a climate change bill. But he is also a strong backer of tougher fuel efficiency standards. At yesterday's markup at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Markey lamented "what's not in this bill." He said "the country has been waiting 20 years to address the issue" of fuel efficiency. He called it "our duty."

Markey has sponsored a fuel efficiency measure that includes a dozen co-sponsors who have voted against raising mileage requirements in the past. Aides to Democratic leaders said they hoped to win over 30 Democrats who opposed stiffer mileage requirements in the past, in part by wooing farm state lawmakers with generous tax credits, loans and mandates for more ethanol production.

Leaving a fuel efficiency measure out of the energy bill now carries risks for Dingell, too. In a conference committee to reconcile the Senate and House bills, lawmakers would have to either accept or reject the Senate provision if there is no House version. If both chambers adopt fuel efficiency measures, then a compromise could be written.

But yesterday Dingell was pushing for a trimmed down energy bill that could unite committee members ranging from pro-coal Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) to renewable fuels advocates like Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). It includes tougher efficiency standards for appliances, new buildings and lighting. It also promotes incentives for a "smart grid" that would help residential and industrial customers use electricity more efficiently.

While the measure does not set requirements for minimum biofuel use, it includes grants and studies to promote ethanol pipelines, E85 fuel pumps and cellulosic ethanol production.

Republicans on the committee lamented that the bill did nothing to promote nuclear power, coal-to-liquids plants or new oil offshore drilling in federal waters.

"What do you call an energy bill that doesn't have any energy in it?" said Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.). "We could call it a lethargy bill." Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Tex.) denounced "parliamentary tricks" that made it difficult to propose amendments that wouldn't be considered non-germane.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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