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Governors Still Feeling Their Way Through Climate Bill
July 22, 2009

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Climate Wire 

Governors still feeling their way through climate bill


Evan Lehmann, E&E reporter

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Colorado's Democratic governor sidestepped questions from the Senate's leading agitator on climate legislation about the depth of his support for a behemoth energy effort rolling through Congress. It comes days after another Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer of Montana, called cap and trade the "wrong approach."

The hearing yesterday largely reinforced Democratic assertions that the climate bill known by the names of its House authors, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), would fuel new-era energy jobs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

But the response by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter underscores the complexity -- and cost -- that Democrats face in reshaping the country's economy. The instigator, no less, was opposition enemy No. 1: Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

"I'm kind of wondering why you're here," Inhofe told Ritter, adding that the bill would "kill" future development of Colorado's vast reserves of oil shale and have a financial impact on the state's farmers. "Are you here supporting Waxman-Markey today?"

"I'm here by invitation," Ritter responded, spurring Inhofe to say, "So you don't necessarily support it?"

"Here's what I support," Ritter continued. "I support a national energy policy that's married to a national climate policy. It gets at these goals that we have for greenhouse gas reductions. And I believe that if you do that, there will be some vehicle that may not look exactly like Waxman-Markey, particularly after the Senate finishes its work. But I very much support climate legislation that is joined with a national energy policy to get us to the greenhouse emissions reduction goals."

Hemming and hawing is natural

The hearing was a precursor to the climate debate that will erupt when Congress returns from its August recess. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, which held yesterday's hearing, is poised to introduce her version of Waxman-Markey in early September.

Ritter's response was already being used as ammunition in Republican attacks claiming that cap and trade would cripple businesses by charging them for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit. There's also the likelihood that Americans will see the price of their energy rise.

Montana's Schweitzer, an outspoken advocate of stemming climate change, raised eyebrows Friday when he expressed opposition to the bill on the HBO show "Real Time with Bill Maher." Schweitzer identified a split within the party by saying the bill represents "some of the Democrats' approach."

"I think it's the wrong approach," he said, noting that electric customers would cover billions of dollars in added costs applied to utilities. "I think if you want to get to the root of the problem, you establish a price of the cost of that pollution to the rest of society."

These breaks from the Democratic Party line, however, should be expected when the nation is wrangling with legislation that would redraw economies, affect millions of people and spark new sources of energy, said Judi Greenwald, director of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

"People are still trying to wrap their arms around which part of it they like and where they'd like to improve it," she said. "We're in the middle of a very complex but essential conversation about this. I imagine, if people are still hemming and hawing, they're still trying to figure out how to make it go all the way."

Vicki Arroyo, executive director of Georgetown University's State-Federal Climate Resource Center, said state executives are still trying to understand how the complex allocation of allowances will affect their populations.

"I think people are still digesting some of the specifics of the bill," she said.

Other nations will 'beat us'

The states are not the battleground that supporters of the bill are worried about. That's where cap and trade was born. About half the states, including six in the coal-dependent Midwest, are pursuing regional carbon-cutting programs.

Colorado, moreover, provided the nation's first voter-approved renewable electricity standard. Ritter doubled it in 2007 to 20 percent by 2020. It was one of the first bills he signed as governor. Thirty-three states have an RES, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) prepared the visiting governors for Republican opposition. He welcomed them to the "halls of denial" and "fear."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said the bill needs to be changed to benefit the middle class and to impose a more aggressive renewable portfolio standard. But she told the governors that taking no action would siphon jobs from their states.

"We just can't sit on our hands and do nothing," she said. "If we do, other countries are going to fill the void. Other countries are going to beat us."

Representation for skeptics

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, the only Republican among the four governors, said Waxman-Markey is "not the right kind of policy."

"This legislation does penalize companies rather than reward," he added, noting that the Basin Electric Power Cooperative and the Dakota Gasification Co., both in his state, have taken "pre-emptive action to reduce their emissions."

"But these efforts will not be considered in the allowance allocation formula," Hoeven said.

Hoeven's answers prompted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was chairing the hearing, to ask him if he agrees with scientists who say climate change will have "very dire" economic and environmental results.

"Do you believe that assessment?" Sanders asked.

"Well, the science shows that there is warming," Hoeven responded. "There's different opinions exactly what's the cause of it."

Sanders also questioned Arkansas state Rep. John Lowery, a Democrat who believes the bill will drive small oil businesses in his state out of business and drive up the unemployment rate.

"Do you agree that if we don't get our act together, our planet is going to suffer irreparable harm?" Sanders asked.

"There is the need to address climate change," Lowery answered, "but not as dramatic as this piece of legislation."

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