March 18, 2009 / 6:24 PM / 11 years ago

Complex path for climate bills in Congress

Southern Company's Plant Bowen in Cartersville, Georgia is seen in this aerial photograph in Cartersville in this file photo taken September 4, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Baltimore

(Reuters) - Congress is expected to tackle climate change this year with bills aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging cleaner alternative energy and more efficient delivery of electricity.

Climate change legislation is complicated and so is the path it could take in the Democratic-controlled Congress. Here is a rundown of key committees that would have a say in shaping the bills:

*HOUSE ENERGY AND COMMERCE: This committee, led by liberal Democratic Representative Henry Waxman, hopes to circulate a draft climate change bill by the end of March. It is expected to establish a system to cap and trade carbon emissions permits, which is what President Barack Obama wants to reduce industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that spur climate change. If the draft is well received by environmentalists and business groups, the committee could approve it, likely with some changes, by the end of May, clearing the way for a vote on the House floor this year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could have the committee combine the controversial climate-change bill with legislation to improve the U.S. electricity grid and bring more renewable energy on line, moves that are complementary to tackling global warming.

*SENATE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS: Like Waxman’s panel, this committee will lead the Senate effort to pass a climate change bill, possibly this year, but 2010 might be more realistic. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer shepherded carbon-capping legislation to the Senate floor last year, which opponents defeated on a procedural maneuver even though the legislation was supported 48-36. This year, Democrats have a stronger majority in the Senate, but its leaders still will have to work hard to win passage of a bill.

*HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS AND SENATE FINANCE: Both of these tax-writing committees will have a say in climate change legislation, as taxes would be central to the cap-and-trade system that would collect revenues from companies such as coal-fired power plants that emit carbon dioxide. Some of the those revenues could be funneled to consumers in the form of tax rebates to help them pay for higher energy costs related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

*HOUSE AND SENATE BUDGET: Obama’s fiscal 2010 budget proposal sketched out $646 billion in revenues from the carbon capping program in 2012-2019. In coming weeks, the two budget committees will write their versions of a budget plan. They also are weighing whether to put the climate change legislation on a fast track by inserting it into bills later in the year that would be protected by budget rules. Under those rules, only a simple majority is required in the 100-member Senate to pass such bills, thus robbing Republicans of procedural maneuvers requiring a 60-vote margin. But the idea has gotten such strong resistance from many Democrats and Republicans that it seems to be fading.

*SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES: It won’t directly deal with climate change legislation. But this month it is writing alternative energy legislation that could be twinned with a climate bill.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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