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House Climate Bill Facing Senate Headwinds

A breakthrough in the House has given a global climate change bill a jolt of momentum in that chamber, but it still may not be enough to break the logjam in the Senate.

After moderate Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) reached a deal with Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the trio said they hoped the compromise would provide a template for the Senate to act.

But Senate Democratic aides said that while the House deal is encouraging, it’s not clear how lasting it will be or whether it can overcome the deep-seated concerns of a host of moderate Senators.

“It’s kind of like drinking a Red Bull when you’re tired,” one knowledgeable Democratic aide said, referencing a popular energy drink. “It gives you a little jolt in the short term, but whether it’ll sustain the energy over the long term is still a question.”

Another senior aide said Waxman’s “pragmatic approach ... will be appreciated in the Senate” but cautioned that the deal is unlikely to fully satisfy Senate moderates who are looking to temper the bill even more.

“Rick Boucher does not equal Evan Bayh does not equal Debbie Stabenow,” the senior Senate Democratic aide said of the Democratic Senators from Indiana and Michigan, respectively. Bayh and Stabenow have expressed reservations about cap-and-trade provisions, which would cap emissions and allow industries to trade for pollution permits.

“There are a substantial number of moderate Democrats who are uneasy at best,” the knowledgeable Senate Democratic aide noted.

Even if Senate centrists are heartened by the more moderate approach being taken by the House, there are some Senate Democrats who will likely have a hard time voting for almost any cap-and-trade system. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who hails from a major oil-producing state and fought the use of fast-track rules for cap-and-trade, is one of them.

“Sen. Landrieu recognizes that we need to address the problem of climate change,” spokeswoman Stephanie Allen said. “But she doesn’t necessarily think that cap-and-trade is the most efficient or most cost-effective way of addressing climate change.”

Plus, several Democratic aides noted that with the economy in a deep recession, many vulnerable Democrats might be loath to vote for anything that could be blamed for higher utility bills.

“With the economy the way that it is, I don’t know that there’s going to be the stomach to pass a bill that might raise people’s utility and gas rates,” one Senate Democratic staffer said.

But Boucher said the deal that he struck should alleviate those concerns, and he has already started briefing Senators, including moderate Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), on the details. In particular, Boucher negotiated to give utilities a free allocation for 90 percent of their carbon emissions to prevent increases in electric rates. Other industries, including natural gas, home heating oil, steel, cement, automobiles and refineries, also get free allocations to mitigate price increases as well as protect trade-affected industries from foreign competition. Revenue from the system would be used to offset costs for consumers.

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