WASHINGTON Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives have put major environmental legislation on a fast-track, boosting chances a climate change bill will pass this month or next, leading lawmakers said on Wednesday.
On May 21, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill requiring reductions of industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases of 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, from 2005 levels.
The climate change bill, along with healthcare reform, are top priorities of President Barack Obama, and House Democrats hope to approve both initiatives before an August recess.
The legislation would mark a major change in U.S. policy from the previous administration of President George W. Bush and a victory for activists seeking to put the brakes on what they fear is accelerating global warming that could induce more severe flooding and droughts and the melting of polar ice.
But it is a delicate balancing act for Obama, who must weigh the environmental benefits against the expected costs new legislation would bring to both consumers and businesses in an economy still trying to fight its way out of recession.
Pushing ahead after the Energy and Commerce committee's action, House leaders are placing strict deadlines for other panels to review the controversial legislation in the hope of passing it quickly in the full House.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel told reporters he has been given a June 19 deadline for his panel to review the nearly 1,000 page bill and determine what changes it wants to make involving tax- and trade-related components.
"We're going to make it," Rangel said of the June 19 date. But he added that members of his committee still have not decided what changes it might seek.
FARM STATES' CONCERNS
Meanwhile, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson told reporters Democratic leaders want to address farm-state lawmakers' concerns over a related Environmental Protection Agency proposal on ethanol and other biofuels. These lawmakers have been threatening to withhold their support for the climate change bill unless safeguards were achieved.
And the House Science and Technology Committee was seeking to approve its contribution to the bill as it debated legislation creating a federal climate control agency to improve knowledge of the problem and provide forecasts and warnings to the public about changes in weather and climate.
Representative Rick Boucher, who helped craft the climate bill moving through the House with provisions to protect the coal industry in states like his state of Virginia, said, "I think we'll have the votes" to pass the bill in the House in coming weeks, possibly this month.
He told Reuters that the Senate was also "rapidly getting itself ready" to handle the complex legislation. Senate Democratic leaders have said they would try to pass a bill this year, although the schedule has been uncertain.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)