House Democrats have reached agreement on several key pieces of a major climate change and energy bill, including a national renewable electricity standard, greenhouse gas emissions limits for 2020 and the distribution of valuable emissions credits to electric utilities and trade-sensitive industries, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee said yesterday.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) expects to pass the comprehensive energy and climate change bill out of committee next week, but several moderate and conservative Democrats said they have not signed off on any final deals. "We have resolved a good number of the issues," Waxman told reporters after a 60-minute closed-door meeting with committee Democrats. "I believe we'll have the votes for passage."
Waxman said he would release legislative text tomorrow and begin opening statements Monday ahead of a marathon markup that should be finished before the Memorial Day recess.
Addressing the bill's longer-term prospects, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told E&E yesterday that he could secure enough Democrats to cross the 218 vote threshold needed for the measure's passage on the floor. "I don't know about all the votes, but I think we'll get sufficient votes to pass the bill," Clyburn said.
Regarding the House bill's specifics, Waxman said Democrats have agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. That is more aggressive than President Obama's suggested 14 percent target, but it is well above the 6 percent limit requested by several Democratic members who hail from states that produce coal and oil.
Waxman said he has not made any changes to his call for longer-term emissions limits: 45 percent from 2005 levels in 2030, 65 percent in 2040, and 85 percent in 2050.
Democrats have also found consensus on limits for one of the most potent of the greenhouse gases: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), though Waxman did not give any firm figures here. Use of HFCs, which have up to 12,000 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide, are expected to rise rapidly in coming decades as they replace other ozone-depleting chemicals used in air conditioners and refrigeration units.
Panel Democrats agreed on distributing emissions allowances: 35 percent of the cap-and-trade program's compliance credits would be given away for free to the local distribution companies that service the electric utility industry. The free allowances are expected to be phased out over 10 to 15 years, though Waxman didn't offer any details on this part of the legislation. Trade-intensive industries, including pulp, paper, cement and steel, also would get free credits -- 15 percent starting in 2014 but phasing out by 2 percent per year.
In 2025, the bill would give the president authority to impose tariffs on carbon-intensive goods from developing countries.
Members have not yet settled on a free allowances figure for petroleum refiners, though offers are between 1 percent and 5 percent. The six committee Democrats with petroleum refineries in their districts -- Reps. Gene Greene and Charles Gonzalez of Texas, Mike Ross of Arkansas, Charles Melancon of Louisiana, Jim Matheson of Utah and Del. Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands -- plan to meet with Waxman today on the issue.
Waxman said Democrats have also agreed to dedicate allowance revenues to adaptation, research and development of low-carbon energy technologies and to help the automobile industry. But he was less clear on the size and scope of an auction for emission credits.
Obama last year called for a complete 100 percent auction of the allowances, and the administration's budget proposal assumed almost $650 billion in new government revenue from the climate program. Asked about the auction, Waxman replied, "I don't know the answer to that question precisely, so we'll have to get that information to you."
One delay may have to do with House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who said yesterday he expects to have jurisdiction over the revenue generation components of the climate debate.
"I think we'll wait for the referral," Rangel said. "We have to really see what's in it coming to us. No sense trying to make news before it gets there."
Still on the fence
Even as Waxman said he could pass the bill out of his committee, at least a half-dozen moderate and conservative Democrats held back in declaring their support for the climate bill, including Reps. Rick Boucher of Virginia, Bobby Rush of Illinois, Diana DeGette of Colorado, John Barrow of Georgia, Baron Hill of Indiana and Melancon.
"All of this is still a work in progress," said Boucher, a lead negotiator for the moderates. "We're still having conversations."
"We're Democrats, aren't we," added Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). "It means we don't agree on anything."
Several Democrats said they wanted to study the legislation before making any public statements one way or another. "I want to read it," Hill said. "I need to see the whole bill before I make a commitment as to whether or not I'm going to support it. But we are making progress."
Melancon said Waxman only talked in generalities during the closed-door meeting yesterday. "If you've got details, you need to send me a copy so I can see them," he said.
Melancon, Hill and several other Democrats forced the Energy and Commerce Committee leaders to twice shelve plans for marking up the legislation to continue the negotiations. Assuming no Republicans vote for the bill, Waxman can lose six Democrats and still pass the bill with a narrow 30-29 margin.
As for the Republicans, GOP committee members huddled yesterday in their own closed-door meeting to gear up for next week's markup.
"Bring your NoDoz Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. "Lots of coffee. You're going to need more than a Keurig one cupper for this one."
Upton said Republicans are lining up a series of amendments. "I know there's more than 200 that are ready," he said. "Whether they'll all be offered, I don't know."
"We're going to have a full and fair and honest debate, and maybe have an outcome that's good for the country," added Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas).
House Democratic whip sees path to 218
With Waxman's panel edging closer to a markup, House and Senate Democratic leaders are busy making their own preparations.
Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) briefed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's Democrats yesterday on the House efforts.
"I think what we'll probably do, we'll have workshops on their bill," Senate EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said after the meeting. "We'll look at every section. We'll compare it to the bill that passed out of the committee last time. See where the consensus is on the committee. But we'll definitely, of course, utilize a lot of their work."
Boxer said she was not ready to commit to a date for a markup on her own version of the climate legislation, though Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a senior member of the committee, said he did not expect action until after June.
During his weekly briefing with reporters yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he thinks the Senate will be able to get 60 votes for an energy bill. Hoyer later said he spoke with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about strategy on the energy and climate issue. "We will have to see what the Senate can and cannot do," Hoyer said.
House Democrats may take the climate and energy bill up on the floor next month, Hoyer said. And Clyburn, the top House Democratic vote counter, said he would be ready.
"Whenever he gets this bill to the floor, I expect to do my part to get this done," Clyburn said.
Clyburn also shrugged off comments from Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) last week that there are about 40 to 50 House Democrats opposed to cap-and-trade legislation.
"I don't know how people make these conclusions before reading the bill," Clyburn said. "I'm pretty pleased with what they developed and, for me being from the Southeast, I think my constituents will be very pleased."
Reporters Ben Geman and Josh Voorhees contributed.