In Congress, a raft of 'fix it' ideas

The House plans to forge ahead on energy legislation even as consensus eludes the Democratic leadership.

When she became House speaker in January, Democrat Nancy Pelosi pledged to put forth "energy independence" legislation no later than the Fourth of July. The idea was to cut American dependence on foreign oil while reducing the harmful climate-change effects scientists say result from burning fossil fuels.

Democrats control both the House and Senate, but that doesn't mean there's unanimity about what such legislation should include. Still, Speaker Pelosi's package, which creates incentives to produce biofuels and boost energy efficiency while cutting $16 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas drilling, marks a departure from past policies. The San Francisco Chronicle calls it "a tectonic shift in the energy priorities in Congress":

"The Democratic package ... breaks from past ... energy legislation, which focused heavily on oil, gas, nuclear, and coal production. The new legislation is all about conservation and renewable energy."

In the Senate, John Warner (R) of Virginia and Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut drafted a bill to cap emissions and allow polluters to trade credits as a way to limit greenhouse gases. Senator Warner's move means "the campaign to curb global warming gained a formidable Senate supporter," reports Congressional Quarterly online:

"Warner has long been viewed as a pivotal player in the debate over restricting emissions. He joins John McCain of Arizona and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania as the third GOP senator to cosponsor carbon-cutting climate-change legislation."

While some lawmakers may be uniting on energy and climate-change policy, tough negotiations lie ahead.

Higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks remain one contentious issue. A key player is Rep. John Dingell (D) of Michigan, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, The Washington Post reported last week.

"[Mr.] Dingell, a longtime opponent of higher mileage requirements and an ally of the automobile industry, wants to make auto fuel usage part of a broad climate change bill later in the year. But the chances of getting a complex climate change bill through Congress and then President Bush signing it are much more remote than adopting a more modest energy bill."

The economic impact of tackling global warming via energy policy is of keen interest to lawmakers. New Scientist magazine online recently joined Stanford University and political psychologist Jon Krosnick of Resources for the Future in probing public perceptions about options to reduce greenhouse gases and their probable costs. Reports New Scientist:

"Results of our poll ... show that policies to combat global warming can command majority public support in the US, as long as they don't hit people's pockets too hard. Americans ... are much more likely to support ... regulations that tell companies exactly how they must achieve cuts. What's more, ... action seems more likely to win support if it targets electricity generation rather than private vehicles."

Similar concerns arise among 43 conservative and moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats in the House. The group says "climate-change issues must be addressed." But the "energy principles" outlined on its website also stress the importance of oil and gas drilling:

"US energy policy should not reduce already existing access to domestic energy resources, should not reduce already existing domestic energy infrastructure, and should not reduce already existing incentives for domestic energy production unless there is a corresponding policy initiative to replace lost capabilities."

Those "incentives for domestic energy production" include the very tax breaks for oil and gas drilling that Pelosi wants to cut or eliminate.

Over this week's July 4 break, Democratic lawmakers had their marching orders, reports The Hill, a newspaper "for and about Congress":

"House Democratic leaders sent rank-and-file lawmakers home with orders to highlight policies to fight global warming and fashion a Democratic energy policy. "[Pelosi] made it clear last week that she would forge ahead, releasing a new energy bill, even though there is little consensus in the Democratic Caucus."

The House, The Hill reported, is expected to vote next week on energy bills when it is back from recess.

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