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Democrats struggling for consensus on climate bills

With competing bills in the House and Senate, Democrats struggle to agree on key climate and energy reforms.

By Steven MufsonThe Washington Post / June 15, 2009

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Democratic allies remain at odds over provisions of a House climate bill and a Senate energy bill, even as congressional leaders and Obama administration officials are pressing to complete work on the legislation.

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The latest rough patch came late Thursday afternoon when House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., met with the two chief sponsors of a climate bill to hash out differences in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. After more than an hour, they emerged without an agreement, gave reporters curt expressions of optimism and left without taking questions.

"There's no deal, but I'm optimistic," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and co-sponsor of the bill. Peterson, who earlier that day said he would oppose the bill, said only that "we made good progress."

Peterson wants to make the bill more favorable to farmers and agricultural businesses. For example, he wants the Agriculture Department to have the authority to decide whether environmentally friendly actions by farmers would qualify for lucrative benefits under a system in which allowances to emit greenhouse gases would be bought and sold. Under the bill drafted by Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., the Environmental Protection Agency would have that authority.

The Peterson problem is just one of many that stand between the Waxman-Markey bill and the ultimate adoption of a climate bill.

Democratic lawmakers also differ over provisions in an energy bill being drafted by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which would open up the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling and would water down an Obama campaign proposal setting minimum requirements for the use of renewable energy.

The differences over touchstone issues in the bill could jeopardize its chances of passage by the full Senate, where Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. is threatening to filibuster it over the provisions for drilling off the Florida coast. Major environmental organizations are also leaning toward opposing the bill. In addition, executives from companies in the wind turbine business are lobbying hard for stiffer renewable energy requirements, arguing that they would be better off with requirements that have already been enacted by 28 states.

"The current legislation does not create jobs and, more importantly, does not effect the sea change that President Obama sought," said Don Furman, president of the American Wind Energy Association and senior vice president of Iberdrola Renewables. Obama has said that he wants to double the amount of renewable energy use over three years and that he wanted to make renewables 25 percent of U.S. energy sources by 2025.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is trying to craft a bill that would satisfy a majority on his diverse committee, but Josh Dorner, a Sierra Club spokesman, said the bill had already "suffered death by a thousand cuts" and had "ended up in a disturbing place."