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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.

The agreement — laid out in a 932-page bill unveiled Friday afternoon and set to begin a multiday markup today — also cut the cap from a 20 percent emission reduction by 2020 to 17 percent, although Boucher said he hopes to relax that further to 14 percent with help from the Senate.

Renewable electricity requirements were also reduced in the bill, to 20 percent by 2020, with up to 8 percent coming from energy-efficiency standards.

Boucher, who hails from coal country, also negotiated major new incentives for retrofitting coal-fired power plants with carbon-capture technology.

But while the House has been moving quickly on its energy package under Waxman, the Senate has had difficulty getting traction on the issue.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has convened working groups on climate change, but Senate Democrats in general have been slow to form a cohesive plan for moving forward. A big part of the problem is the sheer number of committees beyond EPW with jurisdiction over the issues, including Finance; Foreign Relations; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Energy and Natural Resources.

“In the Senate, there’s no real sense of how we’re going to do climate change,” the knowledgeable Democratic aide said.

Some said the details of the House deal are secondary to the notion that the issue now has substantial momentum.

A Democratic aide familiar with the issue noted, “The forward action and movement of a bill through the House and committee is more of a symbol to the Senate than the actual deal itself.”

Of course, the bill still must get through a markup this week and clear plenty of hurdles in the House.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) was still in negotiations with Waxman on Friday to add his legislation cracking down on energy market speculation, which he said was a requirement to get his vote.

Other committees with jurisdiction, including Agriculture, Science and Technology, and Ways and Means, also get to take a shot at the bill, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) riding herd, as she did on the 2007 energy bill.

“We’ll fashion a consensus package once the committees have all acted and hope for an extremely strong, bipartisan vote that will obviously be a message to the Senate,” a senior Democratic leadership aide said.

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