- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

House lawmakers drew their battle lines in the debate Tuesday over a massive climate bill, opening hearings on a sweeping proposal to curb carbon emissions and restructure the nation’s energy industries.

House Democrats lauded the draft plan, saying the time had come to address climate change and praising a fast-track schedule set by the plan’s authors, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, and Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat.

House Republican leaders called the bill part of a broader war by the nation’s East and West Coast lawmakers against the Midwest and demanded more hearings for various parts of the wide-ranging proposal.

Democrats from coal-producing states, whose votes are critical to passage of the bill, said they were concerned about both climate change and the likely loss of jobs to overseas competitors.

“This will be one of the most complex legislative efforts ever undertaken by any Congress,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, alluding to the broad coalition of interest groups and House committee chairmen involved in the debate.

The bill represents the first major attempt under President Obama to cap carbon emissions, a proposal that essentially stalled during the Bush administration but has become one of the new president’s top priorities.

Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey have yet to detail the most important part of the bill: whether companies will have to purchase all or some of the carbon permits that would be required to cover each ton of carbon dioxide emitted.

“We drafted a bill and left that issue open, and that is open for the very simple reason that we need to talk that through with our members,” Mr. Waxman said, adding that the House Ways and Means Committee may choose a different approach.

The uncertainty had Republicans crying foul.

“We would note that your discussion draft lacks any decision on permit allocations versus auctions,” the 23 Republican members of the energy panel wrote in a letter to Mr. Waxman. “The manner in which you will address the issue is the cornerstone of the legislation; without it, the bill is simply not finished and not ripe to be marked up or accurately discussed in the context of a hearing.”

Democrats on Mr. Markey’s subcommittee on energy and the environment, who are getting the first crack at the climate bill, generally backed plans to curb carbon emissions - but urged caution in drafting the carbon-permits provision.

Rep. Jay Inslee, Washington Democrat, said lawmakers should not repeat the mistakes of the European Union, which gave away its first round of permits to affected industries free of charge.

“When they started the cap-and-trade [plan], they gave away all the permits,” Mr. Inslee said. “It created less controversy and it was a spectacular disaster.”

Rep. Mike Ross, Arkansas Democrat and one of the moderate members whom party leaders will have to persuade in order to secure passage, said he was concerned about the price consumers would have to pay if utilities passed along the cost of buying carbon permits to customers.

“If you don’t like $4-a-gallon gasoline, you’re really not going to like your electric bill sometime between now and 2030,” he said.

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