By Tom Doggett, Reuters – The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday moved into the home stretch of a nearly week-long debate on historic legislation to cap and reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with the panel expected to pass the measure toward the end of the day.
The roughly 1,000-page bill aims to cut U.S. greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.
The legislation would also require utilities to generate more of their electricity supplies from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power.
The key part of the legislation is a “cap-and-trade” system that would gradually reduce the amount of greenhouse gases from utilities, oil refineries, steelmakers and other companies by requiring them to have permits to spew their emissions.
Supporters of the bill want to use market forces to push companies to reduce their emissions. Companies that spew emissions above the cap would have to buy permits from less polluting companies, encouraging firms to quickly cut their emissions so they cam make a profit from selling their permits.
The Obama administration has made implementing a cap-and-trade plan one of it top priorities, saying it will help avoid the worst aspects of global warming and create clean energy jobs. However, the House plans would give away about 85 per cent of the emissions permits, while the administration wanted to auction off all of the permits to raise more than $600 billion.
Republicans are worried the legislation would hurt the U.S. economy, raise energy prices for consumers and push American companies that use large amounts of energy to other countries.
House Republican Leader John Boehner said the bill would cost American families up to $3,100 a year, a number disputed by Democrats, energy experts and environmental groups.
Public service commissioners from 10 mostly Southern states sent a letter to the committee on Wednesday asking members to balance the benefits of implementing a federal plan to fight climate change with the real cost those actions will have on electric rates.
“We are particularly concerned about the detrimental impact of these costs on low-income families and seniors,” the commissioners said.
Representative Joe Barton, the top Republican on the committee, said on Thursday he would not request that the bill be read in full, a procedural move he had threaten earlier in the week that would have slowed action on the legislation.
It would have taken about eight hours to go over every provision of the bill. The committee’s Democratic chairman, Henry Waxman, was prepared though and hired a speed reader just in case.
A survey of Democrats on the committee showed there were enough votes to pass the legislation. Of the panel’s 59 members, as least 30 lawmakers, all of them Democrats, said they would definitely vote for the bill or were likely to support the measure, the Reuters survey found.
Lawmakers still offered a series of amendments on Thursday to try to modify the legislation before the final vote on the measure.
The committee agreed to include language in the bill to ensure that any profits made off the emissions permits would be used “for the benefit of retail ratepayers.”
After the bill clears Waxman’s committee, the House Ways and Means Committee will review the legislation. Democratic leaders want to bring the bill up for a full House vote by August.
The legislation would then be sent over to the U.S. Senate, where there is much stronger opposition. A super majority, 60 of the chamber’s 100 members, would be needed to approve the bill. The full Senate may not take up the legislation until early next year.
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