WASHINGTON—The debate over legislation to curb global warming opened Thursday in the House of Representatives.
The opening salvos came at a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's energy and air quality panel, which released a draft bill last week that's heavy on developing new fuels but weak on reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, which most scientists think are the leading cause of global warming.
The most controversial feature of the draft measure is the pre-emption of a tough new California law to lower emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
California, supported by 11 other states with similar laws, has pleaded with the federal Environmental Protection Agency for a Clean Air Act waiver so it can implement its law. The draft legislation would kill California's law, replacing it with a national standard.
Opening statements by subcommittee members Thursday revealed the extent of the divisions on the panel. The sides line up along regional lines more than political ones, with members from states tied to the automobile, oil and coal industries largely aligned against large coastal states with severe air-pollution problems.
The draft legislation, for example, drew praise from Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill, the former House speaker, whose state is rich in coal and corn, used to make ethanol, and from Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., whose district is Dearborn, the capital of the flagging U.S. auto industry.
Dingell is the powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Hastert is the senior Republican on the energy and air quality subcommittee.
Hastert said the draft bill "levels the playing field" for alternative fuels that could help make the country less dependent on foreign oil. Dingell called the measure "well balanced" and a "superb starting point."
But other members—led by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., himself a powerful force on the committee as its second most senior Democrat, behind Dingell—charged that the bill was a gift to the energy industry, especially coal producers, and would do little to curb global warming.
"This doesn't step up to the urgent challenge before us," Waxman said. "It blinks, and then steps back."
The regional divisions were an early frustration to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Realizing that Dingell and the Energy Committee were likely to oppose enacting anything like the California law, Pelosi created a separate global-warming panel headed by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.
Markey denounced the subcommittee draft Thursday, charging that it "cuts the legs out of the states just as they are beginning to sprint forward" behind California's leadership with tough curbs on greenhouse gas emissions.
"This draft is one I cannot support," Markey said. "It does not reflect the spirit of what I think the country wants to see happen."
Pelosi later issued a statement saying that any legislation affecting California's law or curbing the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions "will not have my support."
But there may be enough votes to pass such a bill out of the Energy Committee. While Waxman wrote a letter to committee leaders chastising the bill Thursday and 11 other committee Democrats signed it, those 12 critics don't add up to even half the full committee's Democrats, and represent only about a quarter of the 57-member committee.
Committee approval of the bill could present Pelosi with a dilemma.
Even fellow California Democrat Jane Harman, who supports retaining California's law, said she opposed any legislative maneuvering that would constitute an "end run" around the committee, a signal to Pelosi that she wouldn't have Harman's vote for an alternative global-warming package coming out of the Markey panel or the House Rules Committee, which the speaker controls.
The same regional divisions split the Senate, where Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Many industry leaders have coalesced behind an approach that, while far more sweeping than the draft bill in the House, would set a national standard and pre-empt states from enacting anything tougher.
Boxer has said she'll oppose anything that limits the California law. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the state's senior Democratic senator, had considered a pre-emption clause in legislation she introduced until prevailed upon by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislative leaders.
The voting will start Tuesday in the subcommittee. Pelosi has said she'd like global warming legislation to clear the chamber by the July Fourth break.