Tasked with co-writing a controversial climate change and energy overhaul, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) may have the heaviest lift of any subcommittee chairman in Congress.
The 18-term lawmaker took the reins of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment in the wake of Rep. Henry Waxmans (D-Calif.) coup deposing Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) atop the Energy and Commerce panel.
Together with Waxman, Markey is writing what would be the most sweeping energy legislation in history, releasing a 600-page draft Tuesday that includes a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions as its centerpiece.
The release marks the official kickoff of a lobbying frenzy from interests across the economic spectrum, with a final committee bill expected by Memorial Day.
For Markey, this years battle reminds him of the 1996 Telecommunications Act entrenched interests were wary of new government regulations but ultimately signed on.
If I took the initial reaction of the cable and telephone industries, without question no progress could have been made, Markey said in a recent interview.
Markey credits that act for setting the stage for the Internet boom and creating millions of jobs.
That unleashed a technology revolution that created approximately 3 million jobs in America ... eBay, YouTube and Amazon. I think the same thing is possible in the energy sector, Markey said.
Markey was tapped by a newly minted Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in 2007 to head a select committee on climate change, and he has kept up a brisk pace this year, holding 10 hearings on the subject in two months. Markey has long been close with the Speaker, and she entrusted him to begin laying the groundwork early on the issue.
Markey knows he needs to thread the needle between conservative Democrats from coal and oil regions with the partys more liberal wing, and appease a host of interests from steelworkers to coal miners to utilities to ratepayers to get the bill across the finish line.
Markey is trying to get industry to focus on the new green jobs and technologies the bill would foster.
The United States has an opportunity to create a new manufacturing sector before the Chinese and the Germans and the Indians. ... We won that race in telecom, so the vocabulary of the world is our vocabulary, Markey said. If we dont take this opportunity, we will surely regret it.
Markey acknowledges his lift is heavy, but has been working to smooth out opposition to avoid deal-breakers. From key industries, to even the GOP, Markey says hes leaving no stone unturned. And the man Markey replaced atop the subcommittee Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) could end up being his most valuable ally in getting a consensus, at least among Democrats.
Rick Boucher and I have sat next to each other for 26 years, Markey said. I actually believe there is a will on the part of most of those Members to get to yes.
Boucher, who wrote a 400-page draft last year with Dingell, said there is a momentum behind cap-and-trade from businesses like utilities and even some coal interests that want new rules of the road. The sooner the rules are clear, the sooner a tidal wave of new plants and equipment can be unleashed, Boucher said. That will help to lift us out of this recession.
Boucher and Markey both pointed to a recent Environmental Protection Agency announcement following a pivotal 2007 Supreme Court decision signaling that it would regulate carbon dioxide as spurring industry interest in getting something done.
Theres now an understanding that we have to act, Boucher said. The EPA is going to regulate it if we dont.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), a subcommittee member with steel plants in his district, said there was a lot of fear, especially outside the Beltway, of a bill written by liberals like Markey and Waxman, but Members have been pleasantly surprised by their willingness to accept compromises.
I have to say that Ed Markey has bent over backwards to be sensitive to the concerns of people like myself, Doyle said. I cant say enough about him. That being said, theres a long way to go.
Although Markey and Waxman are pushing for Memorial Day to conclude committee action, its not clear what will happen next.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has hedged on whether the House would move forward first with the cap-and-trade/energy combination measure envisioned by Markey and Waxman or a narrower energy bill that would omit the more controversial cap-and-trade provisions.
And some Members, including Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), would prefer a flat-out carbon tax instead.
Members also want a better sense of where the Senate will go before moving a bill on the House floor.
The House is getting a little tired of walking the plank only to have the Senate refuse to move, Doyle said. Why put something in a bill that has no chance of passing in the Senate?
Markey and Waxman also are reaching out to Republicans, intending to meet with them today to present their proposal and get input. But so far, they dont seem to be getting very far.
We dont want to cap our economy and trade away our jobs, said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who hails from coal country and sits on Markeys subcommittee.
Republican leaders are eyeing the issue with relish, portraying the idea as cap-and-tax that will destroy industries, ship jobs overseas, tax everyone who flips on a light switch and do little or nothing to slow global warming. GOP lawmakers saw the energy debate as a winning issue for them in 2008, and are looking to capitalize on it again this year.
And Republicans like Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton (Texas) argue that the idea Democrats would try to move cap-and-trade in the depths of a recession is politically insane.
Markey has no illusions that the path ahead will be easy, but he said hes convinced the goal is worthwhile and that he will ultimately be successful.
Its no longer something that can be bottled up like it was by the Bush administration, he said. And he said that no one should be surprised by the way he is going about building support for the bill.
Thats how Ive been operating my whole career, he said. Weve been doing this a long, long time.