House Panel Spars over Climate Legislation

By Elise Craig

How contentious is proposed legislation to tackle climate change by putting caps on greenhouse gas emissions? A fairly subdued House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing on June 9 grew a little bit tense when lawmakers began to push panelists for yes or no answers on the American Clean Energy and Security Act. After David Sokol, Chairman of the Board of Mid American Energy Holdings Company claimed that the bill could increase energy costs in Iowa by $283 million, ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) demanded that other witnesses weigh in. One tried to explain that Iowa was “the exception to the rule,” but Barton cut him off. “Is he telling the truth?” The response: silence.

There was also no lack of heated rhetoric from lawmakers. The legislation is either “economic Russian roulette” (said Fred Upton R-MI) or “the start of a clean energy revolution.” (said Jay Inslee D-WA). “We need a plan and we can’t run the risk of living on this rollercoaster where the economy just rises and falls on the price of a barrel of oil,” said Committee Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass). The bill, which had already been marked up before the hearing, requires that producers of emissions obtain allowances for each ton of CO2 that they release, establishes programs to protect consumers from energy price increases and pledges to drive the development of innovative green technologies.

That’s what it does, of course, if you’re a proponent of the Waxman-Markey bill. The bill’s opponents, including ranking members Barton and Upton (R-MI) say that the legislation will bring more job losses, give foreign countries like India and China a competitive advantage in the energy marketplace, and drive up costs for consumers. “I doubt very highly that anyone fully understands exactly how this system will work or what the true costs will be,” Upton said. For his part, Barton even cast doubt on the science underlying the legislation. He said he’s “not convinced that mankind generically and CO2 specifically is a dominant cause of the climate changing.”

The witnesses testifying before the committee and a crowd that included college students in green hard hats homemade t-shirts supporting 100 percent auctions of allowances, were split as well. G. Tommy Hodges and Steve Cousins from the trucking industry and a small oil refinery respectively, said the bill would devastate their businesses, while others, including Thomas F. Farrell II from Dominion, were on board, but hoping that changes would be made.

“If the bill had called for 100 percent auctions, we certainly would not be here supporting this,” Farrell said.

It was a little taste of the bigger drama come when the bill comes up for a vote in the entire House of Representatives.

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