Oil Report

Obama told to keep climate change out of budget bill

WASHINGTON, March 27 (Reuters) - Four key U.S. House panel chairmen on Friday told President Barack Obama that energy and climate legislation should not be attached to a huge budget bill in order to avoid a possible Senate filibuster, because such a move would make it harder to reach an agreement.

The Obama administration wants Congress to pass legislation that sets a limit on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and then allow power plants, oil refineries and other industrial facilities to buy and sell permits to spew their emissions.

However, because of strong opposition to implementing such a plan, especially while the U.S. economy is weak, climate change legislation would likely need 60 votes in the Senate instead of the normal 51-vote majority to block a filibuster of the measure.

Some lawmakers have suggested that the controversial climate change plan be included in the annual budget legislation that funds the federal government because the measure would then need a simple majority to clear the Senate.

In a letter on Friday to President Obama, the chairmen of four House panels said that would not be a good idea. They said “using the budget reconciliation process, which curtails Senate filibuster rights, could arouse regional distrust (among lawmakers) and make reaching agreement harder.”

They added, “Hearings, markups, and regular order are the best way to forge the compromises that will unite members from all parts of the country.”

The letter was signed by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, Chairman Emeritus John Dingell and subcommittee chairmen Edward Markey and Rick Boucher.

Obama said in his televised press conference earlier this week that a cap-and-trade plan to fight climate change would have to be structured “to take into account regional differences; it has to protect consumers from huge spikes in electricity prices.”

The lawmakers said while they represent various parts of the country and approach energy issues differently, “we are united in the view that now is the time for Congress to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation.”

The lawmakers said power companies, automakers and other industries can’t invest in cleaner technologies until Congress tells them what the ground rules will be.

“Unfortunately, the private sector is frozen because of uncertainty,” they said.

Waxman has said he wants his committee to clear an energy and climate change bill by the end of May and he reportedly plans to release a discussion draft of his proposal next week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he hopes the full Senate can approve such a bill this summer.

“It will be authorized, we’ll get it done and I will sign it,” Obama said at his press conference. (Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by John Picinich)