Rep. Kaptur gets $3.5 billion sweetener in climate bill

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When House Democratic leaders were rounding up votes Friday for the massive climate-change bill, they paid special attention to their colleagues from Ohio who remained stubbornly undecided.

They finally secured the vote of one Ohioan, veteran Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, the old-fashioned way. They gave her what she wanted - a new federal power authority, similar to Washington state’s Bonneville Power Administration, stocked with up to $3.5 billion in taxpayer money available for lending to renewable energy and economic development projects in Ohio and other Midwestern states.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, included the Kaptur project in a 310-page amendment to the legislation unveiled at 3 a.m. Friday, just hours before the bill was to be debated on the House floor. The amendment was packed with other vote-getting provisions, both large and small, that had been sought by dozens of wavering Democrats.

The wheeling and dealing proved successful. Mr. Waxman and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, backed by the personal lobbying of President Obama, won over enough lawmakers to pass the bill narrowly Friday evening, 219-212.

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Miss Kaptur trumpeted her handiwork on her congressional Web site. She said the new federal authority would bring new economic development to Ohio and the struggling Great Lakes region and would also ensure “regional equity” with other parts of the country that already have such programs.

“The federal government has been subsidizing infrastructure and economic development in other parts of the country since the New Deal. Now, it’s our turn,” she said. “With the Midwest taking the brunt of the economic crisis, my priority was to bring our region additional tools to create jobs and promote energy independence.”

Her spokesman, Steve Fought, said Miss Kaptur modeled the fund after Mr. Obama’s economic stimulus package, which gave similar-sized pots of money to the Western Area Power Administration and the Bonneville Power Administration. Those two Department of Energy administrations serve the Far West and the Western Plains states by issuing similar kinds ofloans.

The provision empowers the Energy and Commerce departments to recommend to Congress the final structure of the new federal lending authority. In the meantime, the provision authorized $25 million in startup money in 2010.

Miss Kaptur saw the struggling climate-change bill as a vehicle that was strong enough to carry the project into law.

“When she saw this coming down the pike, she saw an opportunity to attach something she’s kicked around for a long time,” Mr. Fought said. The inclusion of the program in the legislation, he added, “made it possible for her to entertain voting for the bill.”

In the end, Miss Kaptur, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and the House Budget Committee, was among a minority of Midwestern and Southern Democrats to vote for the bill. “It was not the factor, but a factor, in her decision to vote for the bill,” Mr. Fought said.

Although the program would benefit his home state, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, also of Ohio, criticized the provision during a more-than-hourlong speech Friday evening. He said an Ohio-based power authority was unneeded because electricity already flows well through Ohio without a new federal power authority.

“We do it today,” he said. “We are doing it already.”

Whether the plan becomes law now depends on the Senate, which has yet to adopt the provision. No companion proposal was included in the energy bill that passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently, and the full chamber has yet to begin writing climate-change legislation.

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