Boucher Pours On the Coal in Climate Debate

Posted May 4, 2009 at 8:49am

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) lost a key subcommittee chairmanship on the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year, but he’s quickly emerged as a leading opponent of a climate change bill pushed by those who ousted him.With the committee expected to begin marking up an energy and climate change proposal this week, Boucher is the key advocate for moderate Democrats, while juggling the competing interests of industry and environmental groups. Boucher, a 14-term lawmaker from coal-producing southwest Virginia, has criticized the plan put forth by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), which would place the first-ever limits on greenhouse gases and likely create a cap-and-trade program. Boucher has already forced the postponement of a subcommittee markup set for last week and compelled leaders of the panel to engage in closed-door negotiations throughout the weekend. Boucher was bumped from his position atop what was formerly called the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee after Waxman wrestled the committee’s gavel from Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). He was replaced by Markey, a Waxman ally who chaired the special committee on climate change established in the 110th Congress by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).The Virginia Democrat, on the other hand, was squarely in Dingell’s camp — the two sat down last year and drafted legislation that took a far more cautious approach to global warming than Markey and Waxman are expected to produce.But Boucher suggested he’s known all along how this process will play out.“I always thought the endgame for passing cap-and-trade legislation was negotiating with Henry Waxman,— Boucher said.Boucher declined to criticize the new committee alignment, saying “it didn’t come as a surprise— because Markey had more seniority and was entitled to take over the panel. He added that he has an “excellent relationship— with Waxman and Markey.“I never thought that either way it would make my role fundamentally different,— he said. Boucher finds himself in the thick of talks, straddling the interests of coal- and oil-rich states, electric utilities, environmental groups and possibly even some Republicans. Boucher said he and Waxman have had cordial yet intense “lengthy meetings— during the past few weeks and, so far, he considers negotiations “constructive— and “methodical.— “Both sides need to work toward the center, a consensus,— Boucher added.Waxman agreed, saying talks with Boucher are going “as smooth as [they] can go— considering the complex issues at stake, such as the allocation of pollution credits and renewable electricity and energy efficiency mandates. Despite their differences, Waxman and Boucher do agree on several issues besides the need for legislation. Boucher supports the Waxman-Markey proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. But Boucher insists that any legislation address “sensitive issues along the way and not cause economic disruption,— while also having a “maximum environmental effect.— Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), a moderate on the panel who has sought climate change protections for oil refineries and fuel producers, said Boucher is known for carefully thinking through issues and taking a calm approach. “I respect Rick, if anything he’s studious,— he said. “Not all of us run by the seat of our pants.— But Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) said Democratic support is not only dependent on mollifying moderates, but also on improving the environment. “You have to keep your eye on that fact that this bill will create a new energy policy,— he said. Boucher is still optimistic that the right balance in a bill could attract GOP support. “If we are able to achieve agreement of a broad measure with industry support, we could get Republicans to vote for it,— Boucher said. House Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) and member Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have vowed to oppose a bill that includes carbon cap-and-trade.