Obama advisers express energy bill support

April 22, 2009 8:33:21 AM PDT
Top environmental advisers to President Barack Obama expressed general support Wednesday for a House Democratic bill to tackle climate change as the measure's chief sponsor rejected claims that limiting greenhouse gases will be a drag on the economy. "They argue that there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and clean energy. That is a false choice," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., as he opened a hearing on his legislation that would cap greenhouse gases and reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels.

Waxman said dealing with global warming and the nation's economic future are "inextricably intertwined" and that addressing climate change will produce new green jobs and foster economic growth.

Top administration officials broadly endorsed Waxman's legislation, although they cautioned that the White House will work with House Democrats to fine tune the bill in the coming weeks.

Republicans have sharply criticized the climate measure, calling it a massive energy tax because it will put a price on carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.

But EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the bill would "create good American jobs that cannot be shipped overseas" and, like Waxman, rejected any conflict between dealing with climate change and economic growth.

"The 'no we can't' crowd will spin out doomsday scenarios about runaway costs," said Jackson. But she said a preliminary EPA analysis of the House bill, including its "cap-and-trade" program to wind down greenhouse gas emissions, "would be modest compared to the benefits that science and plain common sense tell us a comprehensive energy and climate policy will deliver."

Jackson was joined at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican member of the Obama Cabinet and former congressman who may help sway some GOP votes toward supporting the Waxman legislation. All three said the House bill would reduce dependence on foreign oil, spur green jobs and reduce catastrophic global warming.

But House Republicans have been sharply critical of the bill saying it will cause energy prices to soar.

"It is interesting that so many people are determined to raise energy prices in this country," said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the committee's top Republican. Barton has been a critic of the cap-and-trade provisions of the bill.

The draft bill calls for a reduction of greenhouse gases by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by mid-century. It also includes measures aimed at reducing the use of fossil energy such as requiring utilities to produce a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources, and calling for tougher standards to promote conservation.

Waxman said he is determined to pass a bill through his committee by the end of May. Pelosi has said she wants climate legislation passed before the August congressional recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would like to take up a global warming bill in the fall, preferring to wait for House action.

Supporters of the House bill said increased pressure is on Congress to act since the Environmental Protection Agency last Friday declared that greenhouse emissions endanger public health and safety - the first step in regulating climate-changing pollution under the federal Clean Air Act.

"We're going to have to regulate it under the Clean Air Act unless this committee does something," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. And he said he believes that would require more than 100 separate regulations covering various parts of the economy.

"I believe new legislation is the best way," said Jackson. She said the endangerment finding was compelled by an order from the Supreme Court. "If your point, sir, is it's more efficient to do it (through legislation) ... then I couldn't agree more," Jackson told Dingell.

Wednesday's hearing was the second of four days of hearings scheduled this week by the House committee. Business, environmental and academic groups are scheduled to testify as will former Vice President Al Gore on Friday.