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Incoming green Congress turns free-marketers blue

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2008

ANALYSIS:

With the recent election coloring Congress an even darker shade of blue, the intensity of green legislation is expected to follow suit — a projection Democratic lawmakers are eager to confirm.

A number of recent statements and actions by key policymakers all point toward tougher legislation on climate change and a host of efforts to address the nation's energy woes. A look at their plans gives a taste of what to expect come January.

Emboldened by President-elect Barack Obama's stance on climate change, policymakers including Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, have made lofty promises to enact legislation that will curb emissions.

Mrs. Boxer announced last week her plans to introduce two bills in January to combat climate change. One functions as an economic-stimulus plan, providing $15 billion for innovations in clean energy, including advanced biofuels.

The other resembles a bill Mrs. Boxer sponsored during the last Congress, along with Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and John W. Warner, Virginia Republican. It would establish a cap-and-trade program, placing a limit on carbon emissions and providing shares that businesses could buy and sell that would allow them to emit carbon dioxide.

Mrs. Boxer said she will work with the new administration in her efforts.

"President-elect Obama told the world ... that our country will be an ally in the fight against global warming," she said. "I am here to say that our committee stands ready to be a tireless ally in that effort."

While that's good news for environmentalists, free-market economists aren't too happy, including Robert Bradley, chairman of the Institute for Energy Research, a nonprofit organization with free-enterprise ideals.

"I think the opening moves by the Obama administration and in Congress signal that the far left is going to try to use the Obama honeymoon period to get through as much energy interventionism as they can," Mr. Bradley told United Press International. "It will add consumer cost, immediately or over time."

Mrs. Boxer argues just the reverse, pushing clean-energy mandates as a boost for the crumbling economy.

"Clean energy means green jobs," she said. "A new report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that by 2038, another 4.2 million green jobs could be added to the economy - thanks to the alternative energy and renewable energy industries."

The House Democratic Caucus also made important decisions regarding energy last week, voting to replace longtime Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, with Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat.

Many think Mr. Waxman's victory represents strong support for tough climate-change legislation in the House, including Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a nonprofit environmental group.

"I've been watching [Mr. Waxman] since 1976, and I'd say there's no greater clean-air champion," Mr. O'Donnell told UPI. "Dingell clearly was pulled by his allegiance to the car industry, and that impeded his ability to pass strong climate-change legislation."

Not everyone is excited about the change, though. Mr. Waxman's appointment is an omen of high energy prices ahead, said Myron Ebell, director of energy and global-warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public policy organization dedicated to limited government.

"This should provide a loud wake-up call to American business leaders that the 111th Congress is not going to play nicely with them on energy-rationing policies," he said. "Chairman Waxman, who represents Beverly Hills, introduced a cap-and-trade bill in this Congress ... that would dramatically raise energy prices for American consumers and producers."

Although not everyone agrees on the solutions, it's clear the challenges facing the next Congress are significant.

• Rosalie Westenskow is a correspondent for UPI.