Cap-and-Trade Debate Drags On in House Energy Committee

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

After lawmakers consumed all of Monday afternoon with opening statements, debate over a bill that would cap U.S. greenhouse gas emissions finally got underway in a House committee yesterday.

But it has not gotten far.

The Energy and Commerce Committee spent its first eight hours yesterday considering six amendments to the mammoth bill, which would create a "cap-and-trade" system that forces polluters to amass credits equal to their emissions.

That leaves a lot of work to do, if the committee is to meet Chairman Henry A. Waxman's goal of passing the bill out of the committee by the end of the week. Rep. Joe Barton (Tex.), the ranking Republican, said his side could submit as many as 400 amendments.

The bill -- named for Waxman (D-Calif.) and its other chief sponsor, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) -- proposes to reduce emissions by imposing a national limit, or cap, on greenhouse gases. It would then allow polluters to buy and sell their emissions credits. If a polluter, for instance, emitted less than its allotment, it could sell the excess.

In general, Democrats have praised the bill as a long-overdue solution to the problem of climate change. Republicans said that it would add both cost and complications to electricity, gasoline and other sources of fossil-fuel energy. One Republican said the bill would lead to a "permanent recession."

Yesterday, the committee approved an amendment that would create a "Clean Energy Deployment Administration," to provide loans and loan guarantees to companies investing in renewable energy. The bill also mandates that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. The committee shot down a proposal to count wood taken from mature forests on federal land as a kind of "renewable biomass," an approved source of clean power.

Some of the day's most pointed debate came in response to an "off-ramp" suggested by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). That amendment would have allowed the federal government to get out of the cap-and-trade plan if India and China -- two of the world's biggest sources of greenhouse gases -- did not agree to similar limits.

Rogers said that, without this provision, heavy-polluting U.S. plants could relocate to one of those countries.

"Do not eliminate our middle class and send it to China and India," he said.

Democrats retorted that the bill has provisions to protect these industries from overseas competition.

"We shouldn't say we're going to shoot ourselves in the head just because India and China won't do what we want them to do," Waxman said. The amendment was defeated on a party-line vote, 36 to 23.

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