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When a key U.S. House of Representatives committee approved a sweeping clean energy and climate-change bill on May 21, an already intense lobbying campaign ratcheted up even higher.

 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 33 to 25, largely splitting along party lines, to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill is called the Waxman-Markey bill for its authors, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

 

Passage by the committee was crucial. The bill’s ultimate success is far from certain, however. It will face scrutiny in some other committees before it can be brought to a vote on the House floor, and U.S. Senate leaders have said they do not think they have the votes to pass its current form.

 

Waxman and Markey hailed its passage by the Energy and Commerce Committee as historic, however, because the bill is more comprehensive and aggressive than any energy and climate-change legislation Congress has taken up. Observers said that the Obama administration, which worked largely behind the scenes to support the bill, will be in a stronger position when it negotiates with world leaders on a new climate-change treaty.

 

With more than 930 pages, the bill aims to cut Americans’ dependence on foreign oil, make the United States a global leader on clean energy and reduce the pollution that contributes to global warming. It proceeds on four major fronts:

 

  • On global warming, it would establish a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions. It would cut America’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 17 percent as compared to 2005 levels by 2020, and by 83 percent by 2050.

 

  • On clean energy, it would promote the use of renewable energy sources, improve electricity transmission and develop a “smart grid,” promote development of electric vehicles and promote technology for carbon capture and sequestration.

 

  • It would promote energy efficiency in many ways including in buildings, lighting, transportation, industry and appliances.

 

  • It includes provisions to protect consumers and industries during the transition to an economy based on clean energy. It would promote creation of “green” energy jobs.

 

 Waxman-Markey has already been the subject of one of the most extensive and costly lobbying barrages ever, with some unusual alliances among its supporters and opponents.

 

Many environmental advocates support it, including former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore. But environmental groups are not unanimous in backing it; some, such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, complain that too many compromises were made and too many pollution permits, or allowances, were given away rather than auctioned.

 

The majority of environmental groups that do support Waxman-Markey are joined by many large manufacturers and big utilities that believe the bill is more acceptable than alternative proposals to regulate greenhouse gases. It’s supported by the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), whose members include such businesses as Alcoa, Duke Energy, Shell, ConocoPhillips, General Electric, the Big Three automakers, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Caterpillar Inc. and many others, in addition to such environmental groups as the Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pew Center of Global Climate Change.

 

In supporting Waxman-Markey, the business members of USCAP are breaking from an organization to which many of them also belong, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The chamber, the nation’s largest business association, sharpened its opposition to the bill last week on grounds that it would create a system that is too expensive and reliant on regulations. It said the bill would hurt small businesses and would not prod developing nations to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions.

 

Recently several large members of the chamber have also taken issue with that lobbying organization’s official stance. Nike Inc., for example, has been pressuring the chamber’s leadership to support emissions cuts, according to news reports.

 

A number of labor unions have supported Waxman-Markey. Early last week, they were joined by the United Auto Workers, which praised provisions that would help American automakers and parts companies retool and make the transition to plug-in hybrids and other advanced clean technologies. The UAW statement said that the bill would provide jobs for American workers.

 

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank and a vocal opponent of Waxman-Markey, offered the opposite opinion, saying that the bill would “kill jobs,” cost vulnerable Americans too much money and raise electricity bills and gas prices while failing to make a “substantive impact on the environment.”

 

The nation’s faith communities are as divided as businesses, environmentalists and other groups on climate-change legislation. In April 2008, more than 140 Baptist leaders from 25 states and the District of Columbia endorsed a Baptist Center for Ethics letter calling on the U.S. Senate to pass “the strongest possible climate legislation.” Waxman-Markey is stronger than legislation that was under consideration then. Among the signatories were leaders of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, North American Baptist Fellowship and Progressive Baptist Convention Inc.

 

Evangelical and conservative religious groups, meanwhile, have been among the outspoken opponents of Waxman-Markey. Last week, The Cornwall Alliance, which describes itself on its Web site as “the go-to voice for mainstream evangelical perspective on issues of environmental stewardship and development” geared up for the fight by hiring Shannon Royce, who formerly worked with the Washington office of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as its executive director. Royce issued a statement saying, in part, that “climate change alarmists want to prevent economic growth here and around the world. But the view that people are the problem – that they are polluters rather than producers – is unbiblical, and evangelicals aren’t buying it.”

 

The SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission continues its own opposition to Waxman-Markey “or any bill that would ration energy use with a cap-and-tax system.” The commission says that the bill would cause higher energy prices, loss of jobs to other countries and “government strangulation of the U.S. market.”

 

Catholics seem to be more convinced than Protestant evangelicals that climate change is a serious problem; a coalition of more than a dozen Catholic organizations is working to change behavior and influence environmental policy. The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change announced in April its plans to encourage Catholics to reduce their carbon footprints and to lobby state legislatures and Congress for sensible climate-change legislation. Coalition leaders met with Waxman as the bill progressed. Their main concern, they have been quoted as saying, is the moral imperative that climate-change legislation must help the poor, who they say are most hurt by such effects of global warming as floods, storms, drought and agricultural failures.

 

Now that the House Energy and Commerce Committee has given Waxman-Markey its first big success, expect the lobbying to intensify and the debate to grow louder and more heated.

 

Linda Brinson retired in November as the editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal. She is a member of First Baptist Church in Madison, N.C.

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