Energy Fight Looms Again in Fall

Posted June 20, 2007 at 6:46pm

The behind-the-scenes tussle between House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over energy legislation has been delayed, but not defused, after Dingell withdrew for now several provisions Pelosi considered poison pills.

Although Dingell and subcommittee on Energy and air quality Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) removed several items opposed by Pelosi and other top Democrats from energy independence legislation that Pelosi wants to unveil by July 4, they also took out provisions strongly desired by environmental groups, keeping leverage for a comprehensive global warming package due this fall that is expected to include a cap-and-trade system and fees for carbon emissions.

The move postpones the divisive battle on issues including subsidies for coal-to-liquid fuel, a pre-emption of regulation by states and the Environmental Protection Agency of vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, and a new standard on vehicle miles per gallon that would have been weaker than that proposed by President Bush. Dingell and Boucher also withdrew some provisions on alternative fuels, a low carbon fuel standard, motor vehicle carbon emissions reporting and other provisions generally backed by environmental groups.

In an interview Wednesday, Dingell insisted that he and Pelosi are working together, and that he and Boucher chose to take out items divisive to both Democrats and Republicans to meet Pelosi’s July deadline, not to preserve leverage for the fall.

Dingell said he hopes Pelosi and other Democrats won’t interfere with the global warming bill, but he acknowledged, “We’ll have to see about that, won’t we?”

“If left alone I think I have a pretty good chance of doing it,” he said. “This is not a new thing to me.”

Dingell said he wants to craft a bipartisan, fair bill that will reduce emissions without hurting any one industry too much but without letting anyone off the hook, either. “Everyone will make their contribution,” he said.

Dingell added that he is concerned other Members are not as understanding of the need to protect industries while also protecting the environment. “People have got to understand that industry is jobs, industry is the economy. … If we destroy it, we get rid of the golden goose.”

But Dingell’s desire to protect auto and other industries is running headlong into a Democratic Caucus eager for bold action requiring automakers and others to dramatically improve efficiency.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of a select global warming committee set up by Pelosi, expressed his disappointment at the subcommittee markup Wednesday.

“We are taking up a bill that consists largely of low-hanging fruit, when we should be aiming much higher,” Markey said. Markey lamented the failure to include increased mileage standards for cars and trucks, a mandate for renewable electricity production, and a renewable fuels standard that would boost cellulosic ethanol.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) — a senior member of Energy and Commerce who also has battled Dingell and Boucher behind the scenes — called the revised bill “a modest step but a step in the right direction … but we are capable of doing much more and we must do much more.”

Dingell said he hopes Waxman, Markey, Pelosi and others will end up supporting the bill that is crafted in the fall. “I hope that we will all be on the same page,” he said.

But Dingell noted that Democrats had complained for 12 years that they had been shut out of the legislative process, and he said he wants to work with Republicans to pass a bill that can be signed by the president.

“We should allow every Member to have his say,” he said.

Republicans, meanwhile, contended that Pelosi had written the bill, not Boucher and Dingell.

“This is a sad day for the committee,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

“She has run over both you and the full committee chairman,” Shimkus said to Boucher. “The vast majority of Democrats are anti-fossil fuel and this markup is a perfect example of that. It’s a travesty.”

“There’s no beef in this energy bill,” complained Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.). “It’s quite clear that Speaker Pelosi has made a decision that she doesn’t want to do anything to address coal and nuclear.”

Boucher denied that Pelosi had run over the committee.

“It’s not true,” he said. “We had negotiations with the Speaker and we came to an agreement on legislation that will make an enormous contribution to energy self-sufficiency and will make an enormous contribution in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Dingell also denied the charge. “Miss Pelosi hasn’t seen this legislation,” he said, and an aide to the Speaker added that she had yet to sign on to the latest proposal.

Shimkus, meanwhile, said that he remains hopeful that Boucher and Dingell will follow through on their promises to write a bipartisan global warming bill. “I’ve got to believe that John Dingell and Rick Boucher can’t pass a global warming bill without our help,” he said.

“If it’s just Pelosi’s way or the highway, I don’t know how it gets done,” Shimkus said, adding that he hasn’t been encouraged in the past two weeks.

“I’m very depressed,” he said.

Shimkus said if Democrats continue to fight pro-coal provisions, they will face trouble.

“The fossil fuel Democrats’ feet are going to be held to the fire if they sell out the fossil fuel industry,” he said. “They can’t walk away from the coal fields of America.”

The bill still includes energy efficiency standards, improvements to the electricity grid, promotion of advanced battery and plug-in hybrid vehicles, loan guarantees for innovative technologies, and incentives for building renewable fuel infrastructure, Dingell and Boucher noted.

“This procedure for considering energy legislation at this time was discussed with the Speaker, and she understands the rationale for proceeding this way so that we can rapidly complete work on a bipartisan bill that can be signed into law,” they wrote. “As we see in Senate consideration of energy legislation, many of these issues are complex and difficult, and it is our desire to avoid unnecessary delays in passing legislation that can accomplish much good.”

They said the energy efficiency provisions alone would remove more carbon dioxide emissions than are emitted from all cars currently on the road.