- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

House Democratic leaders claimed an early victory on a revised climate bill Thursday even as they had sizable work ahead to draft the legislation and gain the support of moderate party members to pass one of President Obama’s top priorities.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers hoping to peel away Democratic support for the measure introduced an alternative climate bill and said they planned to offer amendments to the Democratic draft next week in an effort to dilute the final bill.

Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman of California and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts stood behind fellow Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia on Thursday as he detailed major concessions he had won for industries that would be hardest hit by the bill’s carbon-trading proposal.

“I do have remaining concerns about the bill, and in future stages of the legislative process I will be working for improvements,” Mr. Boucher said. “But I am committed in the full committee to be supportive of this bill, to encourage others to be supportive, and at further stages in the process will work for further improvements.”

Mr. Boucher has been instrumental in rallying Democrats from coal-producing states and other areas where the bill might be unpopular.

The House climate bill, the first attempt during the Obama presidency to establish a so-called “cap-and-trade” system that would cap greenhouse gas emissions and sell carbon permits to businesses, has stalled in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where moderate Democrats have raised concerns about the legislation.

Mr. Waxman, the committee chairman tapped by House leadership to shepherd the climate legislation with Mr. Markey, said he still expects to pass legislation by the end of next week and said a new draft of the Democratic legislation would be available late Thursday or Friday.

“I think it is a bill that will accomplish what the president has asked us to do,” Mr. Waxman said.

The new bill would give away 70 percent of the allowances from a carbon trading system to various industries for free and auction the rest. The new split is a far cry from the proposed sale of all the carbon permits, something Mr. Obama and other Democratic leaders had said they’d like.

The new climate draft also scales back the amount of energy utilities would have to purchase from renewable energy sources and takes the amount of carbon dioxide that would have to be reduced by 2020 from 20 percent down to 17 percent.

Rep. Joe L. Barton, House Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking Republican, noted that the free carbon permits for affected industries would phase out in a few decades, and said any cap and trade plan would be an “economic disaster.”

“What you’re doing is delaying the pain,” the Texas Republican said of the free carbon allowances. “I don’t think appeasement works.”

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