- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

House lawmakers drew their battle lines in the climate debate Tuesday, as they opened hearings on a sweeping proposal to curb carbon emissions which could cost the nation trillions of dollars.

House Democrats lauded the draft plan, saying the time to curb global warming is now and praising a fast-track schedule set by the plan’s shepherds; Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey.

House Republican leaders blasted the bill, calling it 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.

And Democrats from coal-states, whose votes Democratic leaders need to secure passage of the climate bill, said they were concerned about both climate global warming 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, alluding to the broad coalition of interest groups and House committee chairmen who will have to work in tandem for successful passage.

The bill represents the first major attempt during the Obama administration to cap carbon emissions, a proposal which had essentially stalled during the Bush administration for lack of political support but which has become one of the president’s top priorities.

But 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. “We’ll come up with a proposal on that. The Ways and Means Committee may well come up with a different prooposal or a similar one.”

That major detail had Republicans crying foul Tuesday, in a letter they sent to Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey Tuesday.

“As an initial matter, we would note that your discussion draft lacks any decision on permit allocations versus auctions,” wrote the 23 Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“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.”

Democratic members of the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment who are taking the first crack at the climate bill were generally supportive of plans to curb carbon emissions — but urged caution in drafting the carbon-permits provision.

Rep. Jay Inslee, a Washington Democrat and an early supporter of President Barack Obama, said lawmakers should not repeat the mistakes of the European Union which gave away its first round of permits to affected industries.

“When they started the cap and trade 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-to-conservative party members leaders will have to win over 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.

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

Mr. Obama’s top climate and energy officials, including EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and Energy Secretary Steven Chu are set to testify Wednesday morning.

“9:30 tomorrow morning we begin to write history in the United States,” Mr. Markey said as he closed the hearing.

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