The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed comprehensive climate change and energy legislation on 21 May 2009 by a vote of 33 to 25. The bill, HR 2454, sponsored by Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020, by 42 percent by 2030, and by 83 percent by 2050. The legislation would also increase energy efficiency of buildings, appliances, transportation, and industry, as well as require 20 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020.

Reports indicate that intense negotiations and compromises were required to develop legislation that could be passed out of the Committee. In recent weeks, Chairman Waxman made a number of concessions to moderate and conservative Democrats on the Committee to gain their support for the measure. One major change was the target for the 2020 emissions reduction target, which was reduced from 20 percent to 17 percent below 2005 levels. Another major change is that the cap and trade program that would be established by the legislation would give away 85 percent of the emission allowances and auction the remaining 15 percent, a significant difference from the 100 percent auction President Obama endorsed on the campaign trail. Auctions would begin in 2012 and the revenue gained would largely be used to offset rising energy costs. The free allowances would be distributed to electric utilities, natural gas distributors, and energy intensive industries such as the paper, steel, cement, and auto industries, and would be phased out by 2030. The allocation also includes efforts to prevent tropical deforestation and for climate adaptation efforts, including natural resource protection.

The bill lays out a policy for the federal government to “use all practicable means and measures to protect, restore, and conserve natural resources to enable them to become more resilient, adapt to, and withstand the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.” The US Geological Survey (USGS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would collaborate to establish a process for the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center to conduct research and to provide tools and strategies for natural resource adaptation. Federal agencies and states would also be required to develop and implement natural resource adaptation plans to account for the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. Additionally, a National Wildlife Habitat and Corridors Information Program would be established to support the development of GIS databases to inform natural resource management.

A few provisions in the bill address climate change science. Most notably, a new National Climate Service within NOAA would be charged with developing and distributing national and regional climate information and forecasts to states, local governments, and the public. Additionally, NOAA would conduct marine spatial planning to inform siting of offshore energy facilities.

The Energy and Commerce Committee ‘marked-up” the legislation over a four-day period during which more than 90 amendments were considered. The final vote to report the legislation from the Committee was primarily along party lines. One Republican, California’s Mary Bona Mack, voted for the bill. Four Democrats, Mike Ross (AR), Jim Matheson (UT), Charlie Melancon (LA), and John Barrow (GA) voted against HR 2454. The legislation will now be considered by up to eight other House Committees that have jurisdiction aspects of the legislation. So far, only the Agriculture, Natural Resources, Science and Technology, and Ways and Means Committees have indicated that they are seriously interested in holding their own markups of the bill.

Meanwhile, the Senate is also considering legislation to address climate change. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has been reviewing legislation sponsored by Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) that would set a national renewable energy standard of 15 percent by 2021. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, is also planning on moving forward a version of climate legislation from the EPW Committee.


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