After four days of attempts by Republicans to further water it down and debate among environmentalists about its current merits, the landmark greenhouse gas emissions bill is on its way out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee tonight -- but not without a few arrests and a much-awaited speed reading.
Capitol police arrested 15 demonstrators from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) who were blocking the office door of Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) in protest of his support for the coal industry. Rep. Boucher has been successful at inserting into the Waxman-Markey bill billions in incentives for coal, which plays a large role in the region of Virginia that he represents.
CCAN director Mike Tidwell told Grist before his arrest: "This is a climate mugging of the American people. Waxman-Markey is becoming a coal industry welfare bill."
Boucher has been open about his ongoing talks with the coal industry. But opponents like CCAN say that he has not met with them to hear their concerns.
The bill passed along party lines, 33-25. Only one Republican -- Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California -- voted in support of the legislation, while four Democrats voted against it. Mack 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."
While undecided congressmen in the House Energy and Commerce Committee have been urged by phone calls and letters from a wide range of interests and constituents to vote "no" on the bill -- or calls from Al Gore to vote "yea" -- an increasing number of corporations have voiced their support for the legislation.
On Wednesday the Democrats distributed a list of energy companies, utilities, manufacturers, and unions that they say are urging the committee to approve the legislation -- among them Duke Energy, Shell, Alcoa, US Steel, Dow Chemical, John Deere and Exelon Corp.
That prompted one of the panel's senior Republicans, Illinois Rep. John Shimkus, said that the increasing numbers of corporations pushing for a cap-and-trade scheme were doing so because "they're afraid if they're not in the room they're going to be destroyed."
Shimkus' remarks come as the GOP tries a new, unintuitive tactic to combat the climate bill: seeking to distance itself from big business, while insisting that Democrats are embracing "Wall Street traders," "polluters" and "others in corporate America" who are "guilty of manipulating national climate policy to increase profits on the backs of consumers."
Republicans maintain that the bill would be a dangerous blow to the American economy. The Heritage Foundation, for instance, has claimed that the bill would destroy over a million net jobs, impose over $1,500 in energy costs on families, and slash GDP by $9.6 trillion by 2030.
But in a new non-partisan analysis, the Environmental Protection Agency reiterates that this isn't true. GDP would increase by more than $5.1 trillion by 2030, says the agency, and costs to families would be no more than $140 per year. That doesn't take into effect reduced energy costs from energy efficiency and greater use of solar and wind sources.
And even with recent cuts in pollution reduction goals and renewable energy standards and handouts of carbon credits to energy utilities -- meant to alleviate concerns of committee members from coal-rich states -- the bill would still achieve emissions reductions equivalent to taking half a billion cars off the road, says the EPA.
Another study by market analysis firm Point Carbon points out that the money generated by auctioned-off greenhouse gas permits would give consumers $750 billion in direct and indirect handouts and subsidies through 2030, meant to offset higher energy costs associated with newer energy sources.
Once More, With Feeling
In addition to the still controversial cap and trade scheme, the legislation would establish renewable energy standards requiring utilities to buy at least 12% of their electricity from renewable sources such as windmills, solar panels and geothermal technology.
That's a knock-down from an original 25% target -- a move meant to placate House members from the southeast and midwest who argued their states did not have the renewable resources to comply.
The bill also promotes "large scale" programs to spur demand for electric vehicles, offers rebates to spur demand for energy efficient appliances, and amends building code to ensure new buildings are 50% more efficient by 2016.
All together, the bill aims to cut emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050.
Racing Out of Committee
Still, after three long days of meetings during which Republicans promised to draw out the markup with hundreds of amendments -- and possibly a reading of the 900-page bill -- the Republicans recognized that delay was futile, and signaled defeat today by promising to expedite today's proceedings toward a vote.
As a frustrated Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) tried once again to push an amendment that would count woody biomass from federal land as renewable energy, Chairman Waxman called on him as "Mr. Woody." Walden eventually withdrew the amendment in the hopes of discussing it before the house.
Earlier, ranking Republican Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) made light of earlier Republican threats by asking for his amendment to be read aloud -- by a speed reader hired by the Democrats in case a reading of the bill were to be forced.
Barton, who had seen the speed reader practicing in the hallway, called the reading "just to hear that young man read."
"I want him to read in a Texas accent," Barton added.
After a trial with a Texan drawl, the reader began to read accent-less. Applause erupted a minute into the reading of the amendment, which would eventually fail.
"If anybody in the country wants to hire a speed reader, are you available?" When Rep. Waxman asked if the reader, Douglas Wilder, was available for other speed reading jobs, he replied, "Yes!"
"You've just created a new job," Waxman told Barton.
"If he'll just work on his accent a bit, he'll have a bright future," Barton replied.
Though the bill -- which Al Gore called "one of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced" in Congress -- is about to clear its first hurdle, levity is not exactly to be expected in the coming months. Soon the Ways and Means and two other committees will take stabs at the legislation before it moves on to a full House vote and an uncertain future in the Senate.