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House Dems Scale Back Plans on Global Warming

WASHINGTON -- House Democratic leaders are scaling back plans to curb global warming and make the transition to cleaner energy in the hopes that they can get a bill passed this year.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., announced Tuesday evening the outlines of a deal that they said would ensure the legislation will please both environmental and industry groups and have the support of moderate Democrats on the House Energy Committee.

To do so, they have lowered targets for renewable energy, will require a smaller reduction by 2020 in the emissions blamed for global warming, and will give away valuable permits to release pollution to electricity distribution companies and auto manufacturers.

"We have resolved a good number of the issues," said Waxman, who chairs the panel and has set a Memorial Day deadline for it to clear the committee. "I believe we will have the votes for passage of this bill next week."

The bill -- the American Clean Energy and Security Act -- would place a limit on heat-trapping gases for the first time and reduce fossil fuel use by boosting energy efficiency and requiring more electricity to be produced from renewable sources.

While these goals are endorsed by President Barack Obama, the legislation faced opposition from fellow Democrats in coal, oil and industrial states, jeopardizing its chances of making it out of committee.

Last week, Obama invited all three dozen Democrats on the panel to the White House to help forge a consensus.

Initially, the bill called for electricity producers to generate 25 percent of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2025. That target has been lowered to 15 percent by 2020, with as much as 5 percent coming from improvements in energy efficiency.

The deal also makes more modest cuts in greenhouse gases. The draft unveiled in March called for a 20 percent reduction by 2020 in the emissions blamed for global warming. The version that will be unveiled later this week will call for a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020.

While that early pollution goal goes further than the president has called for, it still falls short of what other countries are calling on the United States to commit to by December, when a new international agreement to reduce global warming pollution will be negotiated in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Other details of the bill still need to be worked out, such as how the allowances to emit greenhouse gases will be distributed. Obama has called for a 100 percent auction and would use the billions in revenue to help fund renewable energy technologies and to offset higher energy prices for middle-class households.

Waxman said Tuesday that the Democrats on the committee had agreed to give 35 percent of the allowances away for free to local electricity distribution companies to help ease costs. Allowances will also be doled out to auto manufacturers to help them develop cleaner cars.

"It is still a work in progress," said Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., at the conclusion of a meeting Tuesday of the panel's Democrats. Boucher, who hails from a coal-producing district, has spearheaded negotiations on behalf of moderate Democrats and is one of the swing votes.

"Members are still working their way to individual conclusions on matters," he said.