WASHINGTON – Key lawmakers agreed Tuesday on a strategy for replacing gas-guzzling cars with more fuel-efficient models, but much tougher negotiations lie ahead on a bill that would, for the first time, limit emissions linked to global warming.
President Barack Obama summoned three dozen House Democrats to the White House in an effort to build consensus around climate and energy legislation that is under increasing criticism from Republicans and members of his own party.
The administration has endorsed the bill broadly, saying it would advance key parts of the president's domestic agenda, namely slowing global warming and transitioning to a clean energy economy.
But the details have largely been left to the House Energy committee, which is still working on the final language and has postponed a vote due to cost concerns raised by the panel's moderate Democrats.
Committee members emerged from the meeting Tuesday claiming a modest victory. They said they agreed to embrace a "cash for clunkers" plan that would provide $3500 or $4500 to people who replace old, low-efficiency cars with new, more fuel-efficient models.
But they acknowledged that tougher matters remain, and that some of the resistance was coming from Democrats from coal- and oil-producing states that could struggle to meet the bill's mandates for pollution reductions and renewable electricity generation.
"Our committee is attempting to develop a consensus," committee chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., told reporters after the White House meeting. "Many of the issues split us along a regional basis. But we're talking to each other."
Chief among them is a "cap and trade" proposal that would set a ceiling and put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Companies would either purchase or receive their allowance for free, and then buy or sell portions of their allotment to meet emissions limits.
Obama's budget expects to raise $650 billion by auctioning off all the allowances to companies that release heat-trapping gases, with the bulk of the money going back to families to help with higher energy prices.
Democrats from coal and industrial states are pushing Waxman and his co-sponsor, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., to distribute at least some of those permits for free to ease costs.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama believes consumers and communities "should be compensated if during the transition period there are any additional costs associated with reducing carbon emissions."
Gibbs also said Obama wants "predictability and certainty in the market" to encourage investments in "clean energy innovation."
As the Democrats met with Obama, House Republicans gathered at the Capitol for an energy summit to criticize the Waxman-Markey bill, which they said would create a national energy tax and hurt middle-class families and small businesses. Similar meetings are being planned this month in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and California before Republicans roll out their own plans to curb fossil fuel use and clean up the environment.
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said Tuesday that Republicans will look for commonsense solutions to lower energy costs, increase energy supply and create jobs. But he also acknowledged that part of their mission was to stop the "profoundly bad idea" of cap and trade.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of seven House members, including two energy committee Republicans, unveiled their own legislation Tuesday.
The American Conservation and Clean Energy Independence Act — an update of a bill introduced last year — would pay for the transition to cleaner energy sources using royalties from expanded oil and gas production offshore and on other federal lands.
At a news conference introducing the bill, Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, said progress on the Waxman-Markey bill — which would limit greenhouse gases by putting a price on heat-trapping pollution — was "essentially stalled."
Waxman said he wants the committee to conclude a climate bill by Memorial Day so it can move to its other big priority: tackling Obama's proposal to revamp the nation's health care system.