- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s determined to pass legislation addressing climate change this year.

Pelosi noted that Wednesday will be celebrated as Earth Day. The California Democrat said when the next Earth Day comes around “we want to celebrate what we’ve done this year” to address climate change and shift the nation toward greater use of clean energy.

Pelosi told reporters the House “will pass (climate) legislation this year.” She spoke as a key House committee began four days of hearings on a bill to limit greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said he expects the panel to finish the legislation by the end of May. The Senate has yet to take up a climate bill.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) _ As the U.S, Congress begins to debate climate change in earnest, the science is taking a back seat to economics: How much will it cost to slow the earth’s warming because of man-made pollution _ and what is the cost of doing nothing?

A key House committee begins four days of hearings on climate legislation Tuesday, but the challenge of getting bipartisan support immediately became apparent.

Even before the hearings, Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee argued that the panel’s Democratic leaders are moving too quickly to try to push the legislation through.

They said the draft bill, which calls for broad limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, was not ready for serious discussion because it does not say how emission permits would be distributed.

President Barack Obama wants all of the permits auctioned off with billions of dollars in auction proceeds to be redistributed in order to blunt the expected rise in the costs of electricity and other energy sources as fossil-fuel generated energy becomes more expensive.

But Republicans are opposed to the Democrats’ cap-and-trade approach in general and a number of Democrats from coal-producing and industrial states argue if emissions are to be limited, the pollution allowances should be provided free to energy-intensive industries, easing the cost.

“The manner in which you will address this issue is the cornerstone of the legislation,” the 23 Republican committee members wrote in a letter to Chairman Henry Waxman, a Democrat. “Without it, the bill is simply not finished and not ripe to be marked up or accurately discussed in the context of hearings.”

Rep. Ed Markey, a Democrat and chairman of the panel’s energy subcommittee, who along with Waxman crafted the draft legislation, has acknowledged that the permit distribution issue is a key area of disagreement, but said he is confident it can be worked out as the bill moves through committee.

The draft bill calls for a reduction of greenhouse gases by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by mid-century.

It also calls for a series of measures aimed at reducing the use of fossil energy such as requiring utilities to produce a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources, and calling for tougher standards to promote conservation.

The provisions are hoped by Democrats to blunt the Republican attacks that are primarily aimed at emphasizing the economic impact of controlling for the first time carbon dioxide releases, especially electricity costs from power plants.

The four days of hearings during which the committee is to hear from about 60 witnesses _ environmentalists, business groups and academics all hoping to shape the final legislation _ is expected to focus largely on economic costs.

In the current tough economic times, Republican critics of the bill believe the cost issue will resonate with the public and, in turn, with lawmakers.

“It would raise taxes on every American who drives a car, flips a light switch or buys a product manufactured in the United States,” House Republican leader John Boehner declared when the Democrat’s draft bill was unveiled last month.

Since then he has claimed every household would see their electricity bills increase on average by more than $3,000 under the cap-and-trade provision, citing a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Boehner’s claim was quickly refuted by one of the MIT study’s authors, who said the Republican leader had misstated the findings and exaggerated the costs which the study estimated were closer to $340 per household. Nevertheless, Boehner and other Republicans repeatedly have called the bill an unjustified energy tax.

But environmentalists have argued _ as has the Obama administration _ that the costs of dealing with climate change can be dramatically reduced by adopting programs that will spur the development of energy efficiency and wider use of non-fossil energy such as wind, solar and biofuels. ____

On the Net:

House Energy and Commerce Committee: https://energycommerce.house.gov/

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