WASHINGTON -- The chairman of a key House committee said Thursday he will move "quickly and decisively" to push legislation curbing greenhouse gases with a goal of passing climate legislation out of his committee before Memorial Day.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., opening the new Congress' first hearing on the threats from global warming, said inaction on the climate issue is causing uncertainties that make it more difficult to emerge from the recession.
"Our environment and our economy depend on congressional action to confront the threat of climate change and secure our energy independence," said Waxman. "U.S. industries want to invest in a clean energy future, but uncertainties about whether, when and how greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced is deterring these vital investments."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., another strong proponent of moving climate legislation, has given no indication how quickly House action might come.
But given the broad impact that regulating greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, would have, it is widely viewed that any legislation will require substantial bipartisan support, especially in the Senate.
To dramatize the business community's growing consensus that the climate issue must be confronted, Waxman invited to the first hearing 14 corporate executives and environmental leaders who have pressed for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.
The 14 executives and environmentalists sat shoulder to shoulder across at a witness table spanning two-thirds of the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing room.
Dealing with climate change "will not be cheap and not be easy," warned James Rogers, chairman of Duke Energy Corp. But he said coupling a short term stimulus package with a long-term climate plan, "we have the ability to stimulate greater confidence ...(and) put the recession in the rear view mirror."
Earlier the group, the 31-member United States Climate Action Partnership, outlined its blueprint for limiting greenhouse gases, calling for an 80 percent emission reduction by mid-century with half of that coming by 2030. It calls for a ramp up of 20 percent reduction as within a dozen years. Carbon dioxide emissions have been increasing about 1 percent a year since 1990.
The group endorsed a cap-and-trade system where greenhouse gas emissions would be limited, but pollution allowances would be provided by the government, especially for carbon intensive industries such as utilities with coal burning power plants. And it would provide incentives for coal plants that capture carbon dioxide.
The business group's plan does not go as far as what President-elect Barack Obama has proposed, nor one that Waxman has floated. Obama has called for an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels, meaning greater reductions would have to be made.
Obama also has opposed giving industry free emission allowances, saying that 100 percent should be auction and the proceeds used to promote clean energy, energy efficiency and carbon capture from power plants. The coalitions plan would phase in auctions.
But the proposal outlined by the business and environmental leaders is expected to be a starting point.
"This is the model to solve the problem," Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., told the group.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who chairs the subcommittee that will write the initial legislation and chairs a separate committee on climate, said a consensus for mandatory emissions reductions is clear.
"Now the hard task of enacting global warming legislation is before us," said Markey.
That point was demonstrated by Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the committee's top Republican, who said the cap-and-trade plan threatens jobs. And he recounted how each of the companies represented by the witnesses had recently suffered dramatic declines in the value of their stock.
"You cannot tell me if we adopt mandatory cap-and-trade it's going to help your stock prices," said Barton.
Among the executives were the chairmen of ConocoPhillips, General Electric, DuPont and electric utilities Exelon, NRG Energy Inc. and Duke Energy. Environmental groups included Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Nature Conservancy and World Resources Institute.