WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in Congress sought to stake out a compromise on climate control legislation on Thursday as environmentalists awaited California’s decision on new limits on auto emissions.
The two moves signaled growing political momentum behind efforts to curb greenhouse gases, which President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has made a policy priority after years of slow going by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
California regulators could announce as early as Friday a decision to lower carbon pollution from cars, seen as a major contributor to global warming.
While California would be the first U.S. state to impose such limits, its decision could prompt 11 other states to do the same, which critics say would be especially hard on grain-based alternative fuels such as ethanol.
In Washington, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday held its third consecutive day of hearings on a proposal to drastically limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases spewed from factories and utilities.
In the face of staunch opposition from most Republicans and concerns of several moderate Democrats, Representative Edward Markey announced on Thursday that industries would be allowed some free pollution permits under the legislation, to be written in coming weeks.
There has been a spirited debate on Capitol Hill and within the environmental movement over whether firms should have to pay for all their emission permits, which could affect the price of permits auctioned by the government.
“There are going to be some free allocations of allowances,” Markey told reporters, without specifying what entities would receive the allowances or what percentage might be free.
REPUBLICANS RESIST CAP AND TRADE
In acknowledging some permits would be free under the bill, Markey may have taken a major step toward enticing some wavering Democrats to support the measure.
Representative Rick Boucher, an influential Democratic member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told Reuters this week that he wants nearly 100 percent of the permits to be given to industry for free.
Republicans, meanwhile, intensified their rhetoric against the Democrats’ “cap and trade” climate change initiative.
Representative Mike Pence, the third-ranking House Republican, called it “essentially an economic declaration of war” on states that rely heavily on coal as an energy source.
Obama had initially said all the permits should be sold. More recently, he has indicated flexibility.
Free permits to emit greenhouse gases are “critical initially in order to cushion the economic impact of climate change legislation on electricity customers,” Jeffry Sterba, chairman of the Edison Electric Institute, testified.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, who wrote draft climate control legislation with Markey, wants his panel to complete work on the bill by the end of May, teeing up a vote by the full House later in the year.
As the panel waded through testimony on Thursday, a bipartisan group of congressional leaders huddled at the White House with Obama to talk about upcoming legislative battles, including the climate change bill, which aims to cut carbon emissions by 83 percent from 2005 levels by 2050.
The committee will conclude hearings on Friday with testimony from former Vice President Al Gore, who has become the world’s most famous advocate on climate control.
Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe in Washington and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Patricia Zengerle
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