Moderate House Democrats circulated a watered-down version of a sweeping climate-change-prevention bill Friday as lawmakers moved closer to a compromise on a proposal to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee went “back to the future,” turning to Democratic and Republican leaders of the ‘90s, former Vice President Al Gore and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to debate the merits of energy measures that will likely dominate the next century.
Rep. Rick Boucher, Virginia Democrat, the de facto leader of the committee’s moderate Democrats, circulated a list of amendments designed to ease regulations outlined in the climate bill pending in committee and met with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, to discuss the legislation.
The four-page list, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, proposed to answer a key question not detailed in the bill drafted by Mr. Waxman and Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat: How much should businesses pay to reduce carbon emissions?
Under the proposal, electric utilities would be given 40 percent of the allowances created through a “cap-and-trade” system that would require companies to hold one allowance for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit.
The changes would also:
• Strip a provision in the bill that would have allowed citizens to sue the government based on harm, or potential harm, from climate change.
• Provide bonus allowances for “early adopters” of clean coal technology.
• Scale back greenhouse gas reduction mandates compared with the Waxman-Markey bill; the alternative would require that carbon dioxide be reduced 6 percent by 2020, 44 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. The Waxman-Markey bill has a much accelerated timeline.
• Provide free allowances to “energy intensive industries” as outlined in a 2008 bill introduced by Democratic Reps. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania and Jay Inslee of Washington State.
• Reduce a federal mandate for utilities to use renewable energy sources to 15 percent by 2025 instead of the Waxman-Markey proposal of 25 percent by that date.
A Boucher spokeswoman said she believed the list to be outdated and that no drafts had been made public yet.
House Democratic leaders have said they would like to see a climate bill passed by the Energy and Commerce Committee by Memorial Day, but they have yet to detail how allowances - which could cost businesses and industry tens of billions of dollars a year - would be distributed.
Mr. Waxman deputized Mr. Boucher late in March to round up support for the climate bill among moderate Democrats and party members from coal states.
But some Democrats have still bristled during the week of hearings Mr. Markey called to review the plan.
“Nobody in this country realizes that cap-and-trade is a tax, and a really big one,” Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat and former committee chairman, said Friday.
Mr. Gore came to the aid of Democratic lawmakers seeking to pass a cap-and-trade plan, and Republicans called on Mr. Gingrich to undercut the sweeping climate bill.
Mr. Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental activism since the end of the Clinton administration, and former Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican, threw their support behind the climate bill.
“Passage of this legislation will restore America’s leadership of the world and begin, at long last, to solve the climate crisis,” Mr. Gore said. “It is truly a moral imperative. Moreover, the scientific evidence of how serious this climate crisis is becoming continues to amass week after week after week.”
Mr. Markey said Mr. Gore’s appearance reminded him of a movie, but not the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” that won the former vice president an Oscar.
“I’m thinking of another movie: ‘Back to the Future,’ ” Mr. Markey said, noting that Mr. Gore’s testimony builds on work he began decades ago.
Mr. Gore told lawmakers the effects of global warming were growing worse and that immediate action was needed.
Mr. Warner, who retired this year after ending his Senate career trying to pass a similar cap-and-trade plan, said lawmakers should consider not only the national security problems caused by dependence on foreign oil but also by refugees from nations that would be hit hardest by global warming.
Mr. Gingrich referred to an advertisement he did with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during last year’s presidential campaign calling for bipartisan support in battling climate change, which was paid for by Mr. Gore’s environmental group, when attacking the bill’s supporters.
“A dialogue ought to be both ways, not an automatic agreement,” Mr. Gingrich said of efforts to rush the legislation through Congress.
Shortly before Mr. Gingrich opened his testimony, Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton, the committee’s ranking Republican, said the cap-and-trade plan would leave the nation in a place more like one of the “Back to the Future” movies, in which the characters are whisked back to the Wild West.
“Your bill would give us a carbon footprint equivalent to 1885’s,” Mr. Barton said.