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Special Weekend Report: 219-212, House Passes Climate Bill

Bill Passes

John M. Broder reported in today’s New York Times that, “The House passed legislation on Friday intended to address global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy.

“The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

“The bill’s passage, by 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats voting against it, also established a marker for the United States when international negotiations on a new climate change treaty begin later this year.”

Mr. Broder added that, “President Obama hailed the House passage of the bill as ‘a bold and necessary step.’ He said in a statement that he looked forward to Senate action that would send a bill to his desk ‘so that we can say, at long last, that this was the moment when we decided to confront America’s energy challenge and reclaim America’s future.’”

However, today’s Times article pointed out that, “As difficult as House passage proved, it is just the beginning of the energy and climate debate in Congress. The issue now moves to the Senate, where political divisions and regional differences are even more stark.”

Debate Perspectives

To get a flavor of the debate that took place yesterday on the House floor on the climate legislation, see these FarmPolicy.com audio clips:

Bob Latta (R-Ohio)- Opposed the bill, represents the largest manufacturing district in Ohio, as well as the largest agricultural district in the Buckeye state- audio (MP3- 1:00).

John Dingell (D-Michigan)- Supported the bill, the Chairman Emeritus of the House Energy and Commerce Committee noted that if Congress didn’t act, EPA and the executive branch wouldaudio (MP3-0:27).

Steve King (R-Iowa)- Opposed the bill, talked briefly about EPA regulating greenhouse gases and elaborated on Iowa corn farmers and no-till farming. Pointed out that today, Iowa has 6.2 million no-till corn acres, of these, 5 million went in before 2001- audio (MP3-1:26).

Gene Green (D-Texas)- Supported the bill, the bill represents efforts to get the support of a diverse membership- audio (MP3- 0:49).

Glenn Thompson (R-Pennsylvania)- Opposed the bill, member of the House Ag Committee, talked about ag being energy intense industry and noted higher production costs would hurt an already ailing dairy sector- audio (MP3-1:29).

John Conaway (R-Texas)- Opposed the bill, member of the House Ag Committee, indicated that, “[T]he only meaningful thing [the bill] might do is provide a relatively meaningless photo op for our President in December at Copenhagen as he stands to brag about what America’s done while the leaders of India and China laugh at us behind his back.” – audio (MP3-1:16)

On the topic of Copenhagen, an article in yesterday’s Financial Times indicated that, “Will the bill strengthen Obama’s hand at the Copenhagen summit in December?
 It would be better than turning up with nothing. But the relative weakness of the targets and the fact that lawmakers responded to the concerns of consumers, who fear higher electricity bills, will rob Mr Obama of leverage over China and India, whose consumers are far poorer than their American counterparts. China has demanded the US reduce its emissions by 40 per cent below 1990 levels. This bill would reduce US emissions only by 4 per cent below 1990 levels.”

Meanwhile, a news release issued yesterday by the Rural America Solutions Group included the following quotes from the climate bill debate yesterday:

– “Even a small increase in operating costs could devastate rural farmers and ranchers and this bill could prove to be a huge burden on our agriculture producers. U.S. farmers would also be at a severe disadvantage compared to farmers and nations which do not have cap and trade systems with a correspondingly high input costs.” Representative Adrian Smith (R-NE)

– “While the Peterson amendment substantially improves the bill, at least modestly improves the bill, the end result is nothing but something that is disadvantageous, negative for rural economies.” Representative Jerry Moran (R-KS)

– “This bill is a disaster. Let me explain who is opposed. Rural America is opposed to this bill. The manufacturing sector is opposed to this bill. Utilities are opposed to this bill. The transportation sector are opposed to this bill. Why? Because they believe democrats. They believe John Dingell when he says nobody in this country realizes that a cap and trade is a tax. And it’s a very big one. They believe Barack Obama when he said, under my plan a cap and trade system, electricity costs would necessarily skyrocket.” Representative John Shimkus (R-IL)

A statement released yesterday by House Ag Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) regarding the climate bill and the Chairman Peterson’s amendment can be viewed here.

Meanwhile, a news release issued yesterday by the House Ag Committee stated that, “Today, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation that will allow farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to fully participate in a market-based carbon offset program, earning income for activities they undertake to address global climate change.

“The bill’s agriculture provisions negotiated by Chairman Peterson had the support of many agriculture, conservation, and forestry organizations, including the American Farmland Trust, National Farmers Union, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Milk Producers Federation, American Corn Growers Association, American Forest Foundation, American Soybean Association, Dairy Farmers of America, Growth Energy, Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Minnesota Farmers Union, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Biodiesel Board, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Cotton Council, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Farmers Union, National Pork Producers Council, Renewable Fuels Association, United Egg Producers, Western Peanut Growers Association, and Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.”

A news release issued yesterday by the House Agriculture Committee Republicans indicated that, “The number of agriculture and food groups opposed to the Waxman-Markey bill (H.R. 2454) has grown to 120. Not a single one of these groups has changed its position to support the bill despite an amendment from Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) that is included in the bill. Here are excerpts of statements from groups commenting after the inclusion of the Peterson amendment.”

Political Victory and Getting to 219

Steven Mufson, David A. Fahrenthold and Paul Kane reported in today’s Washington Post that, “When the bill finally passed, with eight Republicans voting yes, supporters praised it as a major milestone in the fight to slow climate change. Earlier attempts to cap emissions had stalled in Congress; this bill’s surprisingly swift passage in the House marked a political victory for President Obama and Democratic leaders.

“Obama had made the bill one of his two major domestic priorities, along with health-care reform. And this week he stepped in, lobbying some undecided lawmakers, playing down the costs to consumers and promoting the measure as a ‘jobs bill’ that would create opportunities in the renewable-energy and energy-efficiency sectors.

“One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), said: ‘The American people wanted change in our energy and climate policy. And this is the change that the people are overwhelmingly asking for.’ He called it ‘the most important energy and environment bill in the history of our country.’

“The drive to regulate greenhouse gases now moves to the Senate, where passing climate legislation could prove more difficult.”

Greg Hitt and Stephen Power, writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, reported that, “But it isn’t clear how much of the sprawling House bill will survive in the Senate, where moderate Democrats and Republicans could form a majority that backs less ambitious action. Among the potential problem areas: the House bill has a provision that would impose tariffs on goods imported from countries that don’t match U.S. carbon dioxide restrictions — a slap at China and India that some business interests fear could provoke a trade war.”

James Oliphant and Jim Tankersley reported in today’s LA Times that, “In one of the narrowest votes in its recent history, the House on Friday evening passed a sweeping energy and climate-change bill that supporters say could revolutionize the nation’s industrial economy.

“The 219-212 vote represented a major victory for President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), both of whom invested significant political capital in ensuring the success of the ambitious measure. Obama’s administration and Democratic leaders in the House worked feverishly in the hours before the vote to cement enough support for passage.”

Tory Newmyer and Steven T. Dennis reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Throughout the week, Pelosi and her deputies kept up a feverish effort trying to convert a stubborn list of undecideds — both Democrats and Republicans. During votes on other measures, the Speaker and her whip team could be seen stalking the aisles of the chamber, buttonholing their targets. Between votes, she worked them over on the phone, and in both small groups and one-on-one in skull sessions in her office.

“Heading into Friday, leaders felt they had about 200 votes in the pocket — within striking distance, but still a nerve-rattling distance from the finish line. In a series of morning votes on an Interior appropriations bill, Pelosi pulled uncommitted lawmakers one by one into a room off the House floor to give them a final pitch.”

Jared Allen and Mike Soraghan
reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Eight Republicans voted for it, while 44 Democrats voted ‘no.’

Democrats pulled out all the stops to secure those votes, even arranging for Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.) – who had both been absent for weeks – to fly in for the vote on final passage.”

The Hill article stated that, “Pelosi had last-minute conversations in the rear of the chamber with Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), two undecideds who cast the ‘yes’ votes that helped push the bill over the finish line. Cuellar had even turned down President Obama in a one-one-one phone call Thursday.”

For more on Rep. Cuellar’s vote, see this Hill article, “Tap on shoulder from Pelosi.”

Ana Campoy noted yesterday at the Environmental Capital Blog (The Wall Street Journal) that, “With Republicans largely against the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill up for a vote at the House of Representatives today, its proponents are aggressively going after every vote on the Democrat side.

It’s an arduous process for Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, considering how many have to be coaxed onboard, one at a time.”

Steven T. Dennis reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) stalled the passage of the bill for over an hour by reading the bulk of a 300-page Peterson-Waxman compromise amendment on the House floor.

He contended that no Member of the House had time to read the lengthy amendment because it was filed at 3 a.m. Friday.”

Lisa Lerer and Patrick O’Conner reported today at Politico.com that, “But the all-hands-on-deck effort to protect politically vulnerable Democrats by corralling the minimum number of votes to pass the bill, 219-212, proves that there are limits to President Barack Obama’s ability to use his popularity to push through his legislative agenda. Forty-four Democrats voted against the bill, while just eight Republicans crossed the aisle to back it.”

Climate Bill- Additional Analysis

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “[A]griculture is exempted from the greenhouse-gas emission requirements. Another key provision would effectively shelf the Environmental Protection Agency-proposed rule that factors in land-use changes overseas when calculating the carbon reduction of biofuels. The EPA would not be allowed to consider indirect land-use change under the bill for at least five years and any future consideration of ILUC would also require approval from USDA and the Department of Energy.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “While the ag language appears strong, House Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Joe Barton, R-Texas, said in debate that there was still a provision in the bill that could allow the EPA administrator to designate any emission as harmful to the public and thus subject to the bill’s regulatory oversight.

“‘As far as I can tell, that paragraph trumps everything Chairman Peterson has negotiated with Chairman Waxman,’ Barton said on the House floor.”

Stephen Power reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “One way the Waxman-Markey bill tries to guard against bogus offsets is to delegate decisions on what kinds of activities qualify to the EPA and an ‘Offsets Integrity Advisory Board,’ composed of scientific experts. But that just shifts the lobbying elsewhere.

Farm groups and their congressional allies won a deal to put the Department of Agriculture — rather than the EPA — in charge of determining which domestic agricultural activities qualify as offsets. That is great news for farmers who stand to make money from the bill, but a source of anxiety for environmentalists.

“‘We expect them to be somewhat farmer-friendly,’ Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said of the USDA.

In the end, it is probably unrealistic to think any offset system Congress designs will be perfect. The real question facing the Waxman-Markey bill’s supporters is how imperfect the system will be.”

And Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “The climate-change bill passed by the U.S. House on Friday would expand federal regulations by banning ‘naked’ credit default swaps and requiring over-the-counter derivatives to go through central clearinghouses.

“It also directs the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to set position limits on energy traders across all markets and brings energy swaps under CFTC oversight. The CFTC is the futures market regulator.

“Credit default swaps (CDS) were blamed for amplifying market turmoil last fall. The sharp decline in financial markets prompted proposals for broader federal regulation.”

Senate: Additional Analysis

Edward Felker reported in today’s Washington Times that, “The focus on climate change legislation now shifts to the Senate, where Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada wants to bring a bill to the floor by mid-September. To do so, however, he will have to overcome regional divisions within his party over renewable energy and over the cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Reuters writer Tom Doggett reported yesterday that, “Unlike in the House where a simple majority is needed to pass legislation, the Senate needs 60 votes from its 100 members to end debate about controversial measures.

Democrats and their supporters now control 59 Senate seats. If Democratic candidate Al Franken is declared the winner in Minnesota’s long-disputed senate election, Democrats would theoretically have 60 votes needed to end a potential filibuster, in which opponents to a climate change bill may try to prevent a vote on the measure by prolonging debate indefinitely.

“But some Democratic senators from states that produce coal, a major emitter of carbon dioxide — would have a hard time supporting the climate change bill.”

Mr. Doggett noted that, “Stronger lobbying by the White House may be needed to win Senate approval.”

Keith Good