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House panel advances global warming bill

DINA CAPPIELLO and H. JOSEF HEBERT   05/21/09 11:26 PM ET   AP

The Capitol

WASHINGTON — Legislation imposing the first nationwide limits on the pollution blamed for global warming advanced in the House late Thursday, clearing a key committee despite strong Republican opposition.

The Energy and Commerce Committee approved the sweeping climate bill 33-25 after repeatedly turning back GOP attempts to kill or weaken the measure during four days of debate.

The panel's action increases the likelihood that the full House for the first time will address broad legislation to tackle climate change later this year. The Senate has yet to take up the issue.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the panel's chairman, said the bill represents "decisive and historic action" to increase America's energy security and deal with global warming. "When this bill is enacted into law, we will break our dependence on foreign oil, make our nation the world leader in clean energy jobs and technology, and cut global-warming pollution," said Waxman.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has promised to press for passage of climate legislation this year, but prospects remain uncertain, especially in the Senate. President Barack Obama has told Congress he also wants a bill this year, ahead of international climate talks in December.

The House bill requires factories, refineries and power plants to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and six other greenhouse gases by roughly 80 percent by mid-century and hasten the nation's energy shift away from fossil fuels by putting a price on carbon dioxide releases.

Only one Republican _ Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California _ crossed party lines in support of the legislation. Four Democrats voted against it. She said that while she had concerns about the bill, including its cost, the country can't wait "to make needed changes to our energy policy."

Waxman had vowed to get the 946-page bill out of his committee before Memorial Day. Pressure on lawmakers to leave for the holiday recess pushed the committee to wrap up late Thursday after considering more than 80 amendments.

"The American people are overwhelmingly calling for a new direction ... to take action in a way that changes forever our relationship with imported oil, with the loss of jobs overseas, with the pollution that is causing greenhouse gas warming on our planet," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a co-sponsor of the bill.

Republicans argued that the pollution cuts would lead to soaring energy prices and threaten economic growth by imposing new costs on energy-intensive industries already facing economic hardships.

"We don't want to put the economy in jeopardy," said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the committee's ranking Republican. He offered an alternative that would have scrapped the cap on greenhouse gases and a requirement to produce more electricity from renewable sources. It was defeated 35-19.

Barton said he had "serious concern about the redirection of our energy policy in America."

"For the sake of our nation, I hope to some degree you are right. I'm afraid that you're not. We will see," Barton told Waxman minutes before the vote.

The legislation calls for the government to issue pollution allowances, or permits, to businesses that could be traded on the open market. The bill initially would give away 35 percent of the allowances to electric utilities to prevent higher energy costs from being passed on to consumers. The government also would sell 15 percent and use the money to provide direct relief to lower- and middle-income families.

To get the support of Democrats from coal and industrial states, Waxman had already agreed to give away significant emissions allowances to industries in their states, including the electric utilities, steel manufactures, automakers and refineries. The deal also lowered the bill's targets for renewable energy and required a smaller reduction by 2020 in the emissions blamed for global warming.

Democrats this week added language to create a clean energy bank to disperse grants for new forms of energy and inserted a "cash for clunkers" program that would provide rebates to consumers who turn in gas guzzling vehicles for more fuel-efficient cars.

Republicans said there were other ways to accomplish the same goals.

"I guess our argument on this is there is so much a better way to do this ... through innovation versus this big government mandate," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. "Believe in this next generation of Americans and you will be surprised how fast we can meet these goals without ... the largest energy tax in the history of the United States."

Environmentalists called the committee vote historic, even though some said they hoped the bill would be strengthened.

"The takeaway is that climate legislation is on a path to the president's desk," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. "This bill is a breakthrough."

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The bill is H.R. 2454.

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On the Net:

Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov/

House Energy and Commerce Committee: http://energycommerce.house.gov

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Filed by Dave Burdick  |