Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Waxman-Markey Energy Bill Heading for House Floor and Historic Vote

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to debate the Waxman-Markey energy bill on the floor of the House as soon as Friday. A vote on the bill would be an historic first for a federal government that has generally -- until this year -- taken an ambivalent if not hostile view of climate change legislation.

The bill moves to the House floor with the support of Congressman Collin Peterson, Minnesota Democrat and chair of the House Agriculture Committee, who had fought his corner (i.e., protecting farm interests) right up to Tuesday afternoon. One concession that Mr. Peterson won from bill co-sponsor Congressman Henry Waxman is that the U.S. Agriculture Department rather than the U.S. EPA will manage the farm-related aspects of the bill. There will also be more emissions credits freely given to electric co-operatives, another major sticking point for Mr. Peterson.

Mr. Peterson may bring along as many as 50 moderate Democrats in support of the bill, and thus his support has been viewed as critical to the bill's passage. The final wording of the bill will come in the form of a manager's amendment that will be presented on the floor at the time the bill is taken up for debate.

As all of this was unfolding, the battle for winning passage hit full speed today. President Barack Obama said Tuesday afternoon, "This week the House of Representatives is moving ahead on historic legislation that will transform the way we produce and use energy in America...We all know why this is so important. The nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century's global economy. That's what the legislation seeks to achieve. It's a bill that will open the door to a better future for this nation and that's why I urge members of Congress to come together and pass it." Similarly, and of no surprise, the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, urged the House to pass the bill.

Nearly two dozen U.S. electric utilities and companies published an ad yesterday in the Washington Post calling for passage of the measure. "We support this legislation because certainty and clear rules of the road enable us to plan, build, innovate, and expanded our businesses," the group, which includes Duke Energy, eBay, Nike, NRG Energy, and Starbucks, said.

On the other hand, the American Petroleum Institute said the measure would "drive up the cost of gasoline and other petroleum fuels for consumers and businesses." Senator James Inhoffe, Oklahoma Republican, also voiced opposition saying "Waxman-Markey is a massive energy tax on American families that will destroy millions of jobs and make America's businesses and entrepreneurs less competitive in a global marketplace."

Alongside the push and pull of the legislative process came two reports on what a cap-and-trade bill in the form of Waxman-Markey might mean for American households. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the cost in the year 2020 (but expressed in 2010 dollars) would be about $175 a year. An EPA study said the cost would be in the range of $80-$111 annually.

The bill, which now weighs in at 1,024 pages, could be voted on by Friday evening.

Paco, my loyal research assistant, asks what I think is a very legitimate question: "Can we assume that no one in the House will have actually read through the entire bill by the time it's voted on? And in any case, does this make any difference?" My reaction: "Where you have been Paco? Since when was it necessary for congressmen and women to have actually read through and understood completely a measure before they voted on it?"

Oh the beauties of the American legislative process.

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