Top Obama administration officials praised a major House energy and global warming bill today, saying it would help promote economic recovery and reduce consumption of foreign oil.
"I do believe this is a jobs bill," U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "It is a bill that focuses on the growth industries of the future. There are opportunities for us to create millions of jobs in the green energy industry."
Energy Secretary Steven Chu warned lawmakers that U.S. competitors abroad would continue to take the lead in producing new energy technologies absent passage of mandatory carbon limits and a national renewable electricity standard.
"It actually tears my heart out to see what has happened," Chu said, citing Denmark's position atop the photovoltaics market and Japanese leadership on high-mileage automobiles. "I see, step by step, the United States losing the technology lead. We need to bring those high technology and manufacturing jobs back to the United States."
The House bill provision calling for a nationwide low-carbon fuel standard -- modeled after California's efforts -- also scored high marks from the Obama officials. "I think this approach will help, the approach you're taking, will relieve our dependence on foreign oil by creating other opportunities for people, certainly in the area of transportation," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
All three administration officials offered their support for the House draft bill as the Energy and Environment Subcommittee inches closer to marking up the measure next week.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the full committee chairman, promised lawmakers a busy month of negotiations as they work through several key details of the measure that remain unsettled. "I also want to warn you that as hard as we've been working, the pace is going to accelerate over the next four weeks," Waxman said.
The chairman also pushed back against Republican and industry critics who contend the energy and climate legislation will crimp U.S. economic recovery. "Some have said that true energy reform will undermine economic growth," Waxman said. "They argue that there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and clean energy. That is a false choice. Our economic future and clean energy and inextricably intertwined."
But Republicans still pounced on the Democratic plan's lack of details, such as how to distribute valuable emission credits via an auction or free allowances. They questioned how Democrats can schedule votes on the bill when the Congressional Budget Office has yet to conduct its own scoring analysis of the measure. And Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the subcommittee's ranking member, took aim at the economic repercussions of the legislation.
"Times are tough, yet this proposal puts a bull's eye on the back of working families who are struggling to feed their families and keep the lights on," Upton said.
EPA vows detailed analysis
EPA yesterday issued a preliminary study on the House climate bill that modeled only the cap-and-trade provisions. Jackson testified today that her agency would perform more detailed analysis as the legislative debate proceeds, but she maintained that she had enough data to respond to critics concerned about the bill's economic effects.
"Now, the 'No, we can't' crowd will spin out doomsday scenarios about runaway costs," she said. "I do not claim we can get something for nothing. But EPA's available economic modeling indicates that the investment Americans would make to implement the cap-and-trade program of the American Clean Energy and Security Act would be very modest compared to the benefits that science and plain common sense tell us a comprehensive energy and climate policy will deliver."
Chu's testimony also indicated support for Waxman's effort to fold together major energy provisions alongside a cap-and-trade program. "A gradual, market-based cap on carbon pollution would be a significant step for restoring American leadership in deployment of clean energy technology," Chu said.
Of the renewable electricity standard, Chu added that it "could help create a stable investment environment for America's innovators to do what they do best: create new jobs and entire new industries."
Among the committee's 23 Republicans, few used their questions to signal interest in backing the energy and climate bill. Upton wondered whether a separate nuclear title belongs in the legislation. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) asked for more information about the measure's implications for his home state's forests. And Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) said she wasn't sure how the legislation would fit with state efforts to deal with climate change.
"Put me down as undecided on the bill," joked Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), moments after unloading on the science about climate change.
Mindful of the intense negotiations ahead, several Democratic lawmakers recalled the House committee's resounding 42-1 vote favoring passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments.
"I'm hopeful we get to 42-1 or close to that," Waxman said. "But based on the opening statements, I have my suspicions."
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