Hoyer says climate bill is in works

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said a climate change bill could be on the House floor this summer after Democrats announced agreements on a few critical issues holding the legislation up.

The measure seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent over the next four decades through a cap-and-trade program that would allow industries to trade emission credits on an open market.

House Republicans have said a cap-and-trade bill would raise energy costs and threaten future economic development. And a number of Democrats from industrial states and states that rely on coal and oil voiced similar fears about the original measure offered by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Energy and Environment subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Disagreements have forced Democrats twice to delay a scheduled markup, but Hoyer said in a speech delivered at a U.S. Chamber Institute for 21st Century Energy event Wednesday that “significant action on energy is more likely this year than at any time in recent memory.”

“Major energy legislation is coming, and regulation combating global warming is coming as well,” Hoyer said.

Energy is increasingly viewed as a national security issue and climate change as a threat to economic development, which has brought new constituencies in a call for action, Hoyer said.

Hoyer voiced his own support for a balanced energy mix, which means continued use of fossil fuels like coal with capture and storage, nuclear power and renewable sources like wind and solar power.

On climate, Hoyer said the measure being crafted by Democrats would help protect the economy from the ravages of global warming and could spur the development of green technologies that businesses could then export to other countries.

Hoyer’s address followed the announcement on Tuesday night that Waxman, who has prime jurisdiction over the climate bill, had reached agreement on three critical issues that have held the bill up thus far.

An initial emissions reduction target of 20 percent by 2020 would be trimmed to 17 percent, which is still higher than the 14 percent reduction called for by President Obama and the 6 percent target supported by coal supporters like Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.).

Waxman also pulled back from an ambitious plan to promote the development of renewable energy with a renewable electricity mandate.

Initially, utilities would have had to produce 25 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2025. The target is now 15 percent by 2020. Utilities would also have to meet a 5 percent energy efficiency standard, under the compromise.

An apparent deal was also reached on the distribution of emissions allowances. Distribution utilities would receive 35 percent of the total credits. That is less than the 40 percent lobbyists were pushing for, but President Obama’s plan would have required all allowances to be distributed through an auction.

One outstanding issue remained concerns how many allowances oil refiners would receive. Waxman was scheduled to meet with a small band of “oil patch” Democrats on Wednesday afternoon to try to push the compromise further along.