Wednesday, June 24, 2009

House Democrats reach deal on climate change bill

By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in the House of Representatives on Tuesday said they had reached a deal on difficult agriculture issues in a climate change bill, clearing the way for a vote and probable passage in the chamber this week.
"We have an agreement finally," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, whose support had been widely sought by House Democratic leaders. Peterson declared he is now prepared to vote for the controversial bill.
Representative Henry Waxman, a main proponent for legislation to reduce industrial emissions of carbon dioxide associated with global warming, told reporters: "I think we will have the majority to pass the bill."
Waxman also predicted environmental groups will remain supportive, despite new provisions to help farm states that some feared would weaken the bill.
The breakthrough came just hours after President Barack Obama, at a White House press conference, embraced the Democrats' bill and urged the House to move quickly on it.
"It is legislation that will finally spark a clean energy transformation that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and confront the carbon pollution that threatens our planet," Obama said.
Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he hoped the bill would be debated by the full House, and passed, on Friday.
Last month, Waxman's Energy and Commerce Committee easily passed a climate change bill to reduce industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, as well as provide new incentives for producing alternative fuels.
But since then, Waxman has been in difficult negotiations with farm state Democrats and other House Democrats to gain their needed support since few Republicans are expected to vote for the bill.
AGRICULTURE DEPT OVERSIGHT ROLE
In announcing the deal after briefing a group of moderate Democrats, Waxman said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the Environmental Protection Agency, would be put in charge of overseeing certain steps to be taken by farmers to reduce carbon emissions.
Known as "offsets," the program would allow farmers to claim achievements in reducing carbon pollution by planting trees or taking other environmental actions. But the agriculture community objected to EPA overseeing the program and insisted that the more sympathetic USDA do the job.
"We agreed that we would have the USDA run the program and we will seek guidance from the administration to figure out the appropriate role for EPA," Waxman said.
Waxman announced another break for agriculture as part of the deal: The climate change bill would halt an EPA proposal that farmers feared could hold U.S. ethanol makers responsible for greenhouse gases from crops overseas.
Waxman said a "five-year moratorium" on a proposed EPA rule would be included in the legislation and USDA and Congress would have additional powers to stop the plan after the five years. Continued...
Source: Reuters

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