Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Resolving Climate Change With House Dems Is Critical Turning Point

May 5: President Obama met for about an hour and half with Democratic members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Chaired by Chaired by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) to discuss two key pieces of legislation which the Committee is currently considering -- the draft comprehensive energy legislation, the Waxman-Markey draft American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) [See WIMS 5/4/09] and health care reform. Washington insiders report that the President was well informed on the climate change issue and encouraged the House Democrats to work out their differences and move quickly to meet their deadline of a Committee-approved bill by Memorial Day.

In a press briefing responding to questions about the meeting, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "The President said the transitioning -- to include energy economy -- would create clean-energy jobs and provide America with a major growth driver for the years to come, helping to move us from a bubble-and-bust economy. The President outlined core principles that he believed should guide the energy legislation as the committee finalizes it. The President believes that consumers and communities should be compensated if during the transition period there are any additional costs associated with reducing carbon emissions. He believes there should be predictability and certainty in the market so that entrepreneurs can make major private sector investments in clean-energy innovation. He also believes regional impact should be taken into account and addressed and that our trade-sensitive industries need to be protected.

"The President also made clear that we have been discussing health care reform for decades and he hears from Americans every day that now is the moment for action. With millions of Americans out of work we cannot afford for any American to be denied health care coverage because of a preexisting condition."

There were conflicting reports from Chairman Waxman about whether the Committee will move the bill forward in the Subcommittee or go directly to the full Committee. With time running short, consideration in the full Committee could expedite the mark up process. No meetings had been announced at press time today.

Major issues that still have Democrats divided include the timing of the cap and trade program; the use of emission "offsets"; the distribution (free and/or by auction) of emission "allowances"; and requirements for a national Renewable Electric Standard (RES).

Considering the broad diversity of the Democrats on the full Committee (i.e. Midwest, South, Oil States, Coal States, etc.), there is a feeling that if Democrats can resolve their differences and agree to a compromise bill it could increase the chances for approval in the Senate.

In response to further questions regarding the meeting and the President's feelings about getting a bill on climate change passed in time for the global warming talks in December in Copenhagen, Gibbs said, ". . .obviously you heard the President on a number of occasions mention that his three most important priorities are health care, energy independence and education; that those three present an important foundation for creating long-term economic growth. So I think clearly it’s a major priority of the President's. And I think he believes that the meeting was productive, that progress was made, and that discussions continue in Congress on moving this bill forward. We're hopeful to get something done this year. Obviously, as I said, it is a strong priority of the President's. . . I think the meeting today denotes both his interest and his activity level on this in trying to move a solution forward."

On the Senate side, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, recently announced what she called "the first set of global warming working groups in order to reach out to Senate colleagues and build support for climate change legislation." Boxer said, We are moving forward on a solid footing with dedicated Senators taking the lead on these critical issues." She announced the formation of five working groups including: Regional Issues; Cost Containment; Targets and Timetables; Market Oversight; and Coal Research and Technology. She appointed key Democrats to work on each of the issues.

Access the complete White House press briefing transcript (
click here). Access a release from Senator Boxer on the working groups (click here). Access various media reports on the White House meeting (click here).