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Climate Bill Passes Key Procedural Hurdle in House

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[source: Wall Street Journal]

Climate Bill Passes Key Procedural Hurdle in House

Democrats Still May Not Have Votes for Final Passage

By IAN TALLEY and SIOBHAN HUGHES

WASHINGTON -- A landmark climate bill narrowly passed a key procedural hurdle in the House Friday, a sign that leadership may just barely have enough votes for final passage later in the day. Republicans said the bill included the largest tax increase in American history.

It passed by a vote of 217-205. To ensure final passage, the bill needs 218 votes.

Passage of the controversial bill will hand Democrats and President Barack Obama a major victory on a cornerstone administration policy. It would also give Washington strong bargaining leverage ahead of international climate negotiations later this year.

The House of Representatives is set to vote on legislation to cap greenhouse gases. Opponents say it would put the U.S. at a disadvantage relative to countries like China and would damage the U.S. economy, Steve Power reports.

If it fails, however, it would be a major setback for Democrats. Two indications revealed leadership may not yet have the votes.

The legislation would impose limits for the first time on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, factories and refineries. It also would force a shift from coal and other fossil fuels to renewable and more efficient forms of energy. Supporters and opponents agreed the result would be higher energy costs, but disagreed widely on the impact on consumers.

The chamber was scheduled to move forward on the climate legislation immediately after the procedural vote, but instead moved to an unrelated Interior Department measure, apparently to buy leadership time for 11th-hour arm-twisting.

The Senate Thursday confirmed Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D., Calif.) as undersecretary of State for arms control. She would normally immediately resign her representative position, but said she would resign at the end of votes Friday, indicating Democrats needed every last vote.

In another sign of the problem facing House leadership, 30 Democrats voted against the procedural item that allows the bill to officially come to the floor for consideration. There were 11 members who didn't vote.

Still, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) -- when asked if she didn't have the votes for passage -- said, "No, that's quite to the contrary."

The bill aims to cut greenhouse gases thought to contribute to global warming by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and nearly 80% by mid-century. It would transform the way the nation uses energy through an increasing cap on emissions while creating a market to buy and sell the right to emit such gases.

Thursday, Democratic aides said the majority was still short more than a dozen lawmakers needed to hit the 218-vote margin needed for passage. Fearing a failed vote, the White House ramped up its campaign urging members to support the bill, from personal meetings with senior cabinet officials and advisers on Capitol Hill, to private meetings with the president himself. Mr. Obama even hosted a luau on the White House lawn Thursday evening, politicking over roasted pork and pineapple.

A bloc of moderate Democrats from largely rural, Midwestern states -- fearing their regions would be disproportionately hit by the legislation -- have posed the biggest hurdle for the bill in recent weeks. But many of those members were won over through the same strategy that the bill's authors had used to gain backing from other industries, such as the steel, utilities and manufacturing sectors. That strategy was to give them a greater share of the valuable emission credits that can help offset expected energy price rises.

The administration is selling the legislation as a measure that will not only transform the nation into a lower-emitting energy economy, but also as a jobs bill that will help spur an economic recovery.

Republicans call it a massive energy tax that could cripple the economy, cost millions of jobs and force manufacturing and agriculture overseas to countries like China and India that won't have the same constraints on greenhouse gases.

The nation relies on 95% of its transportation fuels and a majority of its electricity from greenhouse-gas emitting sources, such as oil, coal and natural gas.

Besides the emissions cap, the bill mandates that utilities provide an increasing percentage of their power from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power. It establishes new building codes that would penalize families and businesses if energy-efficiency standards aren't achieved. It also includes a provision that would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission greater authority to site transmission lines, a major barrier to expanding renewable energy.

As the least-protected greenhouse-gas emitter in the bill, the oil industry is expected to be hit the hardest by the legislation while the renewable energy, biofuels and other low-carbon energy sectors will be given a major boost.

By giving some of the other large emitting industries shares of the emission credits -- particularly the electricity sector -- many of those sectors ended up backing the bill. Power companies will be required to pass on the value of the credits to customers to help them offset the cost of rising utility bills.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers opposed the legislation, warning that it could cause a mass migration of business out of the country.

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Welcome to Sarbanes-Oxley for the energy industry. More bureaucracy and higher compliance costs, but no real benefits to society as a whole.

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And more $ funneled out of the economy. ;)

Well, if it creates a cap and trade system, then there will be plenty of money to be made in the future through the trading of carbon credits.

Waxman's bill will likely be murder on the Canadian economy though, especially Alberta's tar sands.

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Well, if it creates a cap and trade system, then there will be plenty of money to be made in the future through the trading of carbon credits.

Waxman's bill will likely be murder on the Canadian economy though, especially Alberta's tar sands.

Ah yes, you are correct, there will be money to be made at the business level. However at the consumer level cap and trade is nothing but a tax as consumer prices will rise because of it.

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Ah yes, you are correct, there will be money to be made at the business level. However at the consumer level cap and trade is nothing but a tax as consumer prices will rise because of it.

Well regular people CAN get in on the system if they have the finances. I think in Europe, a one tonne credit runs at about 18 Euros right now.

I live in a province where we have a 'carbon tax' and honestly, I actually like the system, where the taxes levied on 'carbon' are redistributed in the way of reduced income taxes. A cap and trade is also good because it does work, as shown by a similar system that helped to dramatically lower acid rain in the early nineties.

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