The House energy bill has devolved into a heated internecine battle that threatens to spoil Democrats’ hopes of passing an overhaul of energy policy by July 4.
In one corner is Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), who wants to protect the auto industry from new layers of regulation at the state and federal level. In the other corner is Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has made fighting global warming a major plank of the Democratic agenda and vows to preserve the rights of states and the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
The pair has been circling for months, with the feud coming to a head at a meeting in Pelosi’s office last week that included Dingell, other chairmen and House leaders to discuss draft legislation released June 1 by Dingell and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the energy and air quality subcommittee. The measure has been labeled a giveaway to big industry by environmental groups and some Democrats and is opposed by a number of state attorneys general.
At the meeting, Dingell walked around the room passing out a letter defending his plans to protect the auto industry from regulators, and according to one attendee, told Pelosi, “I’m going to get you a bill, not a Democratic bill, but a Democratic accomplishment.”
Dingell argues in the letter, sent to state attorneys general, that neither the EPA nor states should have the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles because the Department of Transportation already regulates mileage standards and it would place a burden on auto manufacturers to face multiple regulatory regimes. Dingell points out that the draft legislation would still allow the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases from other sources and argues that the issue of global warming requires national and international solutions.
But sources said that sparked a strong rebuke from Pelosi, who stated she would not support Dingell’s plan — even reading aloud the portion of the letter that exempts automobiles for emphasis — and from House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who is drafting an alternative bill that would put teeth into requirements for higher fuel mileage, preserve the EPA’s ability to regulate and crack down on coal.
Dingell’s letter “took a number of Members by surprise,” Waxman said. “It leaves him with a minority of the Democratic Caucus with him.”
Waxman said he and some of the other chairmen strongly opposed Dingell’s plan, which the Californian calls “business as usual” that protects special interests.
“I certainly would find it objectionable and will do all I can to fight that proposal,” Waxman said.
In the wake of that meeting, two subcommittee markups of portions of the energy bill have been delayed until next week at the earliest, although Pelosi insisted Tuesday that the House is still on track introduce a package by the end of June.
Waxman said he expects the issue ultimately will get resolved, “especially with the strong hard line that Speaker Pelosi has taken.”
But it is far from clear how Democrats can resolve the dispute.
The draft legislation “has at its core coal as an alternative energy source at the same time we are letting the auto industry off the hook,” Waxman said, noting that the draft legislation does not include mandatory improvements to fuel mileage until 2022.
Waxman said Dingell would need to carry the bill with Republican votes unless he agrees to major changes, and he argued that chairmen should have loyalty to the Democratic Caucus first and foremost.
“Democratic chairmen should be getting their votes from Democrats and some Republicans,” Waxman said, “not Republicans and some Democrats.”
Pelosi, meanwhile, has not yet said whether she would seek to block legislation that she opposes from coming to the floor or whether she would try to rewrite it via the House Rules Committee. Either move would spark a titanic standoff between Dingell and Pelosi, who already battled earlier this year when Pelosi sought to do an end-run around Dingell by creating a separate global warming panel.
The panel prompted objections from Dingell, who is a throwback to an era when committee chairmen often held more power than party leaders and is known to zealously guard his committee’s jurisdiction and powers.
Asked last week if he was concerned that Pelosi might seek to usurp his committee’s jurisdiction because of her objections to the draft bill, Dingell paused. “I don’t think she’s done so, but if she would try, I would not look with kindness on it,” he said.
Waxman, who also is a member of Boucher’s subcommittee, penned a letter last week signed by other Democrats asking for numerous changes to the draft legislation to toughen it up.
Boucher said Tuesday that he hopes to mark up the bill next week and have a bill ready to present to Pelosi in two weeks.
“There will obviously be some changes to the discussion draft based on comments that we have received at this point,” Boucher said, but cautioned decisions on changes have not yet been made. “We’re having lots of conversations.”
Waxman said he still held out hope that an accord can be reached but said the draft also makes him leery about a later package expected to focus on a cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Waxman said he feared that requirements for improvements will be set too far in the future to be meaningful.
Waxman also rips Dingell’s argument that the existing regime of mileage controls has worked.
“They haven’t taken any action since 1977,” Waxman said.
Waxman, meanwhile, sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters on Tuesday asking for an explanation of department efforts to urge Members to oppose efforts by California and other states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.
“Such an effort by the Department appears to be highly inappropriate and would be considered by some to be illegal,” Waxman wrote.
Correction: June 13, 2007
The article incorrectly stated that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the House was still on track to pass an energy bill by July 4. Pelosi said a package was on track to be introduced by the end of June. The article also said the global warming panel set up by Pelosi was “neutered of legislative authority.” The Speaker’s office says Pelosi never intended for the committee to have legislative authority