May 14, 2009 / 12:05 AM / 11 years ago

Republicans push for changes to U.S. climate bill

* Help for nuclear, "clean coal" to be pushed

* Democrats continue negotiating final details

* House committee aims to finish bill by end of next week

* Some Democrats could withhold support (Adds Democrats’ concerns, quotes, industry reaction)

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives vowed on Wednesday to push for major changes to a climate change bill that could move through a key committee next week, including a proposal to count nuclear power as a clean energy alternative.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will try by the end of next week to put its finishing touches on one of the most significant environmental initiatives in decades.

Some Democrats on the committee said they could not yet be counted on to support the bill. Their support could be essential as no Republicans on the committee have said they would vote for the bill.

"There is a substantial minority of Democrats" who have problems with the legislation, said Democratic Representative G.K. Butterfield, who fears many of his low-income North Carolina constituents might suffer from rising energy costs as companies shift to cleaner, more expensive fuels.

While Democratic leaders have vowed to help those people cover such costs, Butterfield said Washington might not have enough money to do so under the bill.

Details are still being worked out but the measure would give away a large chunk of the permits that are central to the emissions-control plan. President Barack Obama wanted all the emissions permits sold, generating hundreds of billions of dollars. Some Democrats fear selling all the permits would be too burdensome on utilities and heavy industry that are big carbon emitters.

Democratic Representative Gene Green said there was still no agreement on his drive to help oil refiners in his Texas district.

If the Democratic-controlled committee can meet its self-imposed deadline of approving a bill by the end of next week, the full House could vote and probably pass it by early August. The bill’s future in the Senate is less certain.

NUCLEAR POWER AND ‘CLEAN COAL’

Representative Joe Barton, the senior Republican on the House panel, predicted he would prevail with an amendment to include nuclear power and "clean coal" as alternative sources of energy that will have to be used more by electric utilities under the bill.

So-called clean coal would use as-yet-undeveloped technology to capture pollutants.

Democrats aim their alternative energy requirements at renewable sources such as solar and wind, but Barton thinks he might attract enough support from Democrats to pass that amendment in the committee.

The core of the bill would impose a 17 percent cut in emissions of carbon dioxide and other industrial pollutants by 2020, from 2005 levels. That "cap" on emissions would continue to fall in succeeding decades.

Under the "cap-and-trade" program, industries that pollute less than their permits allow could sell of them to industries that pollute more.

Representatives Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, the top two Democrats pushing the climate bill, have scaled back provisions in order to gain support of fellow Democrats who worry their hometown industries and consumers would otherwise be hurt.

The changes also may have helped improve industry support. "It makes (the proposed bill) more reasonable," said a spokeswoman for American Electric Power (AEP.N).

STILL WORKING OUT DETAILS

Democrats on the committee have "on the most part dealt with the major issues," Waxman told reporters. Those include giving 35 percent of the pollution permits to some utilities, 15 percent to trade-vulnerable industries like steel and cement companies and 3 percent to firms making electric vehicles.

But Democrats were still working out some details, even as Republicans prepared to unveil their own alternatives.

"We are not prepared to accept unilateral economic disarmament of the U.S. economy, and cap and trade does that," Barton told reporters.

He said he and fellow Republicans would offer amendments to kill cap and trade when the panel meets next week. Waxman has predicted he has enough Democratic support to fend him off.

Republicans will then focus on other changes to the bill, including the one on nuclear power and renewing attempts they made last year to vastly expand offshore oil drilling and other moves that emphasize domestic energy production rather than controlling greenhouse gas emissions. (Editing by Peter Cooney)




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