Democrats break logjam on climate change bill

House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders on Tuesday night announced a new agreement on a contentious climate change bill, assuaging the concerns of enough committee Democrats to get the bill out of committee, they said.

“We’re going to go to markup on Monday with an expectation that we’re going to finish at the end of next week our energy bill,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) announced on Tuesday night.  “I expect that we’re going to have the votes in committee next week to pass this bill out.”

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Waxman and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said a number of issues still remained to be worked out, but said they have struck a deal on the highest hurdle of how strenuously to limit carbon emissions, overcoming the objections of coal-state Democrat Rick Boucher (D-Va.).

Waxman said Democrats had reached “the broad outlines of an agreement” with Boucher and others to reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020, and to have 35 percent of the allowances to go to local utilities to protect rate payers in some areas that will see their utility costs rise as a result of the new law.

Working in concert with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has called climate change the signature issue of her speakership, Waxman was aiming for a 20 percent reduction in emissions.

But he described the 17 percent target as being “right smack in the middle” of the range that experts had called for.

Markey said the agreement “accelerates the time that we will be able to put this on the books, the laws of our country and move forward toward making those reductions.”

The agreement also allows for as much as 8 percent of renewable electricity requirements to come from efficiency measures, which will include new definitions for waste and biomass.

The two will release the draft proposal on Thursday and bring it straight to the full committee.

Committee and subcommittee Democrats from a range of areas across the country and with intense reservations about the bill that was taking shape reacted guardedly on Thursday night.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.), a southern state Democrat who had worried about his state’s ability to meet an renewable electricity production mandate, called the agreement a “good compromise.”

“I’m feeling much better than I did a week ago,” Butterfield said.

Boucher told reporters that the bill is still a work in progress.