Dems Pushing Comprehensive Energy Plan

Dems Pushing Comprehensive Energy Plan

By Kyle Trygstad - April 22, 2009

Earth Day coincides this year with a fight on Capitol Hill over energy and climate control legislation, which has been thrust onto the front burner in recent days. Three White House Cabinet members testified before a House committee today in favor of legislation aimed at curbing carbon emissions that have now been determined as a hazard to public health.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs an Energy subcommittee, co-authored the comprehensive energy bill that includes a carbon emission cap-and-trade proposal and moves to transition the country to a clean energy economy.

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It was the Environmental Protection Agency's ruling Friday -- that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases "contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare" -- that put the legislation's wheels in high gear. Waxman has said he expects the committee to complete consideration of his bill by the end of May, but where it goes from there is unknown.

Even if the House passes the bill, few if any Republicans are expected to support it in either chamber, making its Senate passage -- with 60 votes required -- a far more difficult endeavor.

A White House spokesman said that the three department heads appearing in front of the committee today -- EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood -- will voice support for the bill. While it may differ somewhat from what Barack Obama had outlined last year during the presidential campaign, it does have the president's support.

"This is something that the president wants to see move forward out of Congress," the spokesman said, rather than have regulations come out of the administration.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised today that the House will pass the bill by the end of the year. Along with getting little, if any, Republican support, it will surely cause heartburn for some Democrats in conservative districts, who could ultimately answer for their supportive vote in the midterm elections next year.

Republicans argue that the plan would put a burden on businesses during the heart of an economic recession and result in "fewer jobs and higher energy prices," as Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) stated in a press release. On CNBC's "Power Lunch" Monday, Pence said a clean energy bill "amounts literally to an economic declaration of war by the West Coast and East Coast on the Midwest."

During an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week," House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) even disagreed with the science of the ruling. "The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical," Boehner said.

Secretary Chu said Saturday that regarding whether humans have contributed to climate change, "for the most part this debate is over." Democrats also argue that the plan would actually be a job creator and put the United States in far better position in the global economy as the leader in green jobs.

The White House spokesman said the administration believes there "will be a clean energy revolution" in the world, and that comprehensive energy reform is necessary for the country to have a "competitive edge." Pelosi said that the country's "economic recovery and future prosperity hinge on whether the United States will be first in the world in the clean energy economy."

Republicans also want comprehensive energy legislation, but one with what they call an "all-of-the-above" approach. At an energy symposium held on Capitol Hill yesterday by the non-partisan Reform Institute, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the realities of the economy demand that, along with a push toward renewable resources, any comprehensive energy plan include increasing production in "conventional fossil fuels" within the United States.

Murkowski said that with Democrats saying they want a plan by "yesterday," she has "concerns we won't be given the time sufficient in committee to draft the kind of balanced energy policy that could truly benefit the country."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who also spoke yesterday at the symposium, called the president's cap-and-trade plan "irresponsible, ill-conceived and distorted," and said he couldn't support the creation of a "giant government slush fund."

"I still believe that it is the time to address this critical domestic and international issue," McCain said. "But my vision for a cap-and-trade system is a mechanism to lower greenhouse gases in our hemisphere, not as a revenue generator for the federal government. We must design a program that balances the needs of our environment with the needs of our economy."

Waxman has been readying a push for a new energy bill since winning the Energy committee chairmanship following the November elections. Over the next five weeks, he'll be working toward getting the bill over its first hurdle -- passage in the Energy committee.

While the White House has indicated its preference for legislation, should the full Congress not approve a bill by the end of the year, the EPA would likely enter the regulatory process without it.

(Mike Memoli contributed reporting)

More on RCP: McCain Slams "Cap and Tax" Energy Plan

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Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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