CLIMATE:

GOP looks to expand renewable electricity mix, stress economy with amendments

The House Energy and Commerce Committee begins the long slog today through hundreds of Republican amendments to change a 946-page energy and global warming bill even as Democrats appear to be lining up behind the measure.

Republicans have written about 450 possible amendments, though Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the panel's ranking member, said he only expects the GOP to focus on about 150 amendments as the markup stretches into the late night hours today, Wednesday and Thursday.

"Bring a sleeping bag," Barton said yesterday after a relatively brief, three-hour session for opening statements.

Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he would prefer to take up amendments title by title, though he is open to departing from that practice if lawmakers request it. If Waxman's plan holds firm, debate today will focus first on a section of the legislation establishing a nationwide renewable electricity standard (RES) requiring utilities to supply escalating amounts of power from sources such as wind, solar and biomass.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said he planned to offer an amendment that would open the RES to nuclear power and carbon capture and storage at coal-fired power plants. "We think it's unfair that basically they're subsidizing wind and solar, and the government is deciding which sources of energy would be used to produce electricity," he said.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) also has his sights on the RES with an amendment that would allow hydropower as a renewable energy source for periods when wind power output slows. "It makes no sense to me" that Democrats disqualified hydropower, Walden said in a statement.

Looking at the bigger picture, Barton said he plans to offer a complete alternative to the Democrats' climate and energy bill that focuses on expanding domestic energy production, though he was still working on his strategy for when to seek a vote on the proposal. "I'm trying to figure it out," Barton told reporters. "I'm not dodging you. I don't know. I kind of want to see how the debate goes."

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, detailed the first four amendments that he would offer this week, including a proposal to terminate the climate law if U.S. unemployment reaches 10 percent.

"You heard a lot of talk from the other side of the aisle how this wouldn't distress the economy, well, we're going to make sure it doesn't," Upton said.

Other Upton amendments would sunset the climate law if 8 million households lose their electricity or natural gas services; kill the climate law if China and India have not implemented climate regulations "at least equivalent" to the U.S. law; and force climate compliance costs on every utility bill, gas pump, manufactured product and food label.

"I think you're going to look at amendments to try and fix the bill in constructive ways," Upton said.

Republicans have tailored a series of amendments at specific states, including language that would suspend the act should it cause anywhere from 1,000 to 500,000 job losses.

The GOP also may try to eliminate tax benefits for companies that belong to the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, including Alcoa, BP, Duke Energy Corp., Rio Tinto and Shell Oil Co., and tinker with the nonprofit tax status for the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Nature Conservancy, World Resources Institute and Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Asked to elaborate on the tax-focused amendments, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said, "You'll have to wait and see. You have three days of markup opportunity. When you do something this big this quick, I think there are going to be provisions in this bill that members are going to regret. And we'll give them an opportunity to know about it before they vote for the entire bill."

Barton said there was no shortage of amendment ideas. "We're preparing them as we speak," he said. "In fact, I came up with several just listening to their opening statements."

It is unclear if the Republicans will have any success in peeling off Democrats to vote for their amendments. Several influential panel members said yesterday they would remain united with their committee leaders in opposing the GOP alternatives.

"I'm going to vote for the bill," Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) told reporters. "And I'm going to defend it against amendments that I'd love to have, from the Republican side, that I'd like to vote for."

Democratic amendments

Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released yet another new version of their climate bill that adds about 14 pages to the measure compared with a version released Friday.

Key changes in the committee print include relaxed restrictions on sources of biomass that can be used to make cellulosic ethanol and other fuels under the national renewable fuels standard; the removal of language that calls for a nationwide automobile standard for greenhouse gases; and a clarification that greenhouse gas requirements won't apply to the Clean Air Act's New Source Review provisions dealing with new or modified power plants and other major stationary industrial sources.

Headed into the markup, Democrats do have their own amendments planned, albeit in far fewer numbers compared to the GOP.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said yesterday that he intended to vote for the overall bill. But first, the former panel chairman said he would offer language that establishes a Clean Energy Investment Bank to promote clean energy technology through loans, loan guarantees and other credit options. The amendment also would back secondary market support for new energy bonds that could lower lending prices in the private sector.

"As we transition to clean energy, we must fund the research and development as well as deployment of these energy sources to meet the mounting demand for zero-carbon technology to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions," Dingell said during yesterday's opening statements.

Supporters of the energy bank idea say the federal government's financing can help bring promising technologies from the lab into commercial deployment, backing innovative projects that Wall Street may not on its own. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) have offered similar legislation.

Inslee yesterday said he hopes to amend the legislation to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission new powers to site interstate transmission lines when local governments cannot reach agreement. Inslee and other advocates say a major build-out of new lines will be needed to carry increased renewable generation to populated areas.

But Inslee acknowledged that adding the plan is no sure thing. "This is a contentious issue," he told reporters. "It takes a lot of people getting comfortable with what we are proposing and we are not there yet."

Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.) outlined a series of concerns with the House bill, though he stopped short of floating any amendments. Among his concerns: no domestic energy production provisions; too tight restrictions on the use of only government-established registries for domestic offsets, as opposed to private outlets such as the Chicago Climate Exchange; stringent rules that would not allow Southeast states to use biomass material for compliance with the RES; shortcomings in the amount of money for wetlands restoration; and not enough consumer protection from high gas prices.

"As a representative of a region whose people are both highly dependent on jobs in the oil and gas industry, yet also more vulnerable to rising sea levels and climate change (which has been linked to more frequent, more intense hurricanes), Representative Melancon is carefully weighing his decision," said Robin Winchell, the congressman's spokeswoman. "He will continue to be an active player in the negotiations."

Another vocal Democratic complaint comes from Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, who said Waxman had not heeded his call for language that promotes production of flex-fuel automobiles in the United States.

"I understand that sometimes compromises have to be made in order to pass a bill, but I find it incomprehensible that compromises were made watering down the bill with others who don't share our view, but when you came to a real compromise on flex-fuel cars, none could be made," Engel said yesterday.

"I know this bill generally takes us in a direction that you and I would like to go," Engel added. "I'd like to vote for this bill, but I'm not sure I can vote for this bill in its current form without strong flex-fuel language."

Waxman said he is working with Engel and U.S. EPA to find a solution to the flex-fuel issue. And he also defended his moves to win over moderate and conservative Democrats despite complaints from some environmental groups that he is watering down the overall measure.

"We're only making consensus and reaching compromises where we think it makes sense," Waxman said. "And we'll continue to be open to other ways to bridge differences with members and outside groups."

Democrats are expected to pass the House climate bill later this week thanks to months of intense negotiations. But Republicans have their own take on how the Democrats have managed to get the legislation so close to passage.

"I'll give Waxman some credit," Barton said. "He and Markey have been very pragmatic in buying votes. Give them credit. Free allowance here. Free allowance there. Everywhere a free allowance."

Science markup postponed

The House Science and Technology Committee yesterday postponed its plans to mark up legislation that would establish a National Climate Service to help communities and industries adapt to climate change. Science Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), sponsor of H.R. 2407, has said his panel is working under a tight deadline to keep pace with the Energy and Commerce Committee's plans for the Waxman-Markey bill, which would also establish a climate service at NOAA. Gordon is also a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Though the bill won unanimous approval during a subcommittee markup last week, a spokeswoman for Science and Technology Committee Democrats said the full committee action was postponed to give "a little more time for collaboration on the bill."

The Science markup was rescheduled for June 3.

Schedule: The Energy and Commerce Committee markup resumes at 10 a.m. today in 2123 Rayburn. It is also expected to go tomorrow, Wednesday and conclude late Thursday or early Friday.

Click here for Rep. Waxman's substitute manager's amendment.

Reporters Ben Geman and Lauren Morello contributed.

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