Since climate change legislation failed to gather steam in the Senate this month, all eyes are now on the House. Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) has been promising a bill for months. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, put out an ambitious bill in early June.
Today, Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) added their own legislation to the pile, to the cheers of green groups.
The “Climate MATTERS Act” (clever acronym alert: “Market, Auction, Trust, and Trade Emissions Reduction System”) aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 through a cap-and-trade system. Eighty-five percent of carbon credits would be auctioned immediately, ramping up to 100 percent by 2020. The bill emphasizes assistance to low-income Americans and transition help for displaced workers, putting half of the revenue from auction into programs like these. There’s also an emphasis on investment in green technology and job creation in the bill.
At a press conference this morning, Doggett, the bill’s lead sponsor, said, “Our country has been the No. 1 greenhouse-gas polluter, and my great Lone Star State of Texas has been the most polluting state in the entire union. So I think it’s appropriate that we try to come up with a solution.”
The bill is distinct from others that have come before it in a few ways. It would use some revenues from auction to create a “Healthy Families Fund,” to help provide health insurance to un- and under-insured Americans. Another 2 percent of the revenue is set aside for expanding existing mass transit and creating new public-transportation programs in areas that aren’t currently served. And while agriculture, forestry, and small businesses are exempted from the emissions cap, there are provisions to incentivize these sectors to reduce their emissions.
“You hear a lot of the naysayers saying this will set us back economically,” said Van Hollen at the press conference. “Those are the people that don’t believe in the great potential of American innovation. What we need to do is to capture the can-do attitude that has propelled this country through many generations.”
The legislators were joined at their press conference by representatives from a number of environmental groups — Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists — plus the National Venture Capital Association and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The bill has been referred primarily to the Ways and Means Committee, which will have markup jurisdiction. This is the committee that handles taxes, tariffs, and other revenue-raising measures, which the sponsors said will give it more authority in dealing with the consumer, revenue, and trade aspects inherent in climate legislation. Doggett, who serves on Ways and Means, said the committee will hold a hearing on the legislation within the next month. It has also been referred to nine other committees for review.
The sponsors didn’t seem to think that any climate bill would make it to markup this year, but said that introducing a number of bills in this session of Congress will give legislators more to work with as they hash out a good plan for next year. “My view is the more, the merrier,” said Doggett. “We want to be close to having legislation ready for the new president next year.”
Doggett was asked about his colleague from Texas, Joe Barton, who is the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Democratic leaders on the committee have indicated that they’d like legislation from their committee to be bipartisan. But Barton is a climate skeptic and has been blocking GOP committee members from entering into negotiations on a mandatory cap-and-trade bill.
“I think everyone in this room would like to have a bipartisan bill,” said Doggett. But, he added, “If we’re waiting for Joe, we might be waiting a long time.”