More Salvos In Climate-Change Legislation | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: May 22, 2009

More Salvos In Climate-Change Legislation

House committee tries to clear 950-page bill in a week
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Climate Change
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Waxman (left) and Barton sparred over climate-change legislation.
Credit: Newscom
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Waxman (left) and Barton sparred over climate-change legislation.
Credit: Newscom

The House Energy & Commerce Committee formally took up H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy & Security Act of 2009, and began what is likely to be a long congressional debate over climate-change legislation.

The goal of committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) was to move the bill through the committee by week's end; the goal of his opposition, Minority Leader Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), was to kill the bill.

H.R. 2454 would reduce global-warming pollution to 97% of 2005 levels by 2012, 80% by 2020, 58% by 2030, and 17% by 2050. It sets up an elaborate carbon dioxide cap-and-trade system to help reach these goals, but in the early years it provides aid to some energy sectors in the form of free greenhouse gas emission allowances. Some 15% of the allowances are earmarked for companies in energy-intensive and highly competitive industries, including the chemical industry, and some 45% would go to fossil-fuel-dependent energy providers.

The 950-page bill also includes a host of energy provisions, among them incentives and requirements to encourage carbon sequestration demonstration projects, electric vehicles, energy efficiency in buildings and appliances, an efficient and "smart" electrical transmission grid, and development of many other cleaner ways to generate and use energy. It also provides economic aid to consumers who will be hit by high energy prices.

Barton and other committee Republicans had threatened to introduce hundreds of amendments to weaken the bill and in particular to remove its cap-and-trade provisions. Their plan would grandfather in all currently operating coal-fired power plants and create a system to encourage far smaller CO2 reductions through incentives.

By midday Thursday, the committee had taken up more than 47 amendments, including Barton's substitute bill, which was voted down along party lines.

Waxman, with a 13-vote Democratic Party majority, had the votes to defeat Republican amendments. But by C&EN press time, it was unclear if he could make his deadline of clearing the bill before the Memorial Day congressional recess.

Even if Waxman is successful, it remains unclear when the bill might reach the House floor. As many as nine House committees have jurisdiction over portions of the bill, and several committee chairmen have signaled they would like to modify it. Also, several key committee chairmen have said they would like to consider health care legislation before taking on the climate-change debate.

The American Chemistry Council has not taken a position on the final draft legislation that was before the committee last week, according to an ACC official. Although the trade association supports reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, ACC said in a statement that steep reductions required before 2020 might handicap U.S. companies in international competition. ACC also expressed concern that clean-energy requirements might spur greater use of natural gas, raising the cost and reducing the availability of this feedstock and energy source for U.S. chemical companies.

In a statement PDF Icon, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership—a coalition of industrial and environmental groups that includes Dow and DuPont—voiced support for committee passage of H.R. 2454 and said the legislation "broadly embraces the approach recommended by USCAP." In several areas the legislation goes too far, USCAP says, but it still urges the committee to pass the bill by Waxman's Memorial Day deadline so the legislation "can move forward while improvements are being pursued."

 
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