Democrats maneuver to advance U.S. climate change bill

WASHINGTON Wed May 6, 2009 1:03am BST

Demonstrators for clean energy hold a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington March 2, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Demonstrators for clean energy hold a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington March 2, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in the House of Representatives said on Tuesday they were still working to pass a climate change bill by year's end as they scrambled to get enough of their fellow lawmakers to support the initiative.

But in an important procedural move, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said he would leapfrog a subcommittee and have the controversial legislation voted on by the full committee before his end-of-May deadline for the panel to act.

Citing the approaching self-imposed deadline, Waxman said it "requires that we go right to full committee and bypass the subcommittee."

Environmentalists who want quick passage of the bill to reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions have noted the measure would have an easier time getting through the full committee, where opposing viewpoints would be diluted by broader support.

Waxman and other Democrats on the committee met with President Barack Obama to discuss the climate change bill. "We are determined to pass a bill by this year," Waxman said.

But it is proving difficult to craft a law that can attract enough Democratic support and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said there is "not a consensus" on the issue.

House Republicans said they were dead set against any cap and trade legislation and instead called for increasing domestic energy production, encouraging conservation and promoting alternative fuels.

An official of one environmental group said the Republican ideas "look an awful lot like business as usual."

Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, a senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told reporters: "The Democrats know that we have a pretty solid line in the sand" against cap and trade, which he called "a dagger to the Midwest."

Midwestern states rely heavily on coal, a major emitter of carbon dioxide, to power electric utilities.

Upton said Republicans, as well as some Democrats, have so many amendments to the bill, including measures to kill cap and trade, that it could take up to two weeks for the committee to wade through them.

CRUCIAL TO INTERNATIONAL TALKS

Representatives Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania and Gene Green of Texas -- two Democrats who worried that the steel and oil refinery industries could suffer -- told reporters that their concerns were being addressed.

Democrats said Obama's firm support for the bill would help because wavering lawmakers would have the popular president "selling the legislation" to the public.

The legislation, which would require U.S. industry to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, is crucial to the U.S. position in international talks on global warming due to take place in December.

The goal of cap and trade is to require industries to use energy sources that emit less greenhouse gases. Those sources could be wind, nuclear and solar power and other alternative energy, as well as cleaner coal.

As overall limits on carbon pollution fall, utilities, steel companies and others that pollute more than their limit could buy credits from companies that pollute less so that their operations can continue while they work on ways to become cleaner.

Even though many businesses now support some kind of cap and trade, House Republicans say the program would hurt the economy and consumers with higher energy prices.

But Waxman said legislation will address the problem. "We are trying to be mindful of the regional concerns and the ratepayers particularly, the consumers," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin; editing by Chris Wilson)

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