Gilchrest (left) and Olver, the new climate warriors.

Photo: U.S. House.

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The nascent congressional effort to fight global warming has spread to the House — but supporters acknowledge that it’s not likely to receive an especially warm welcome from the chamber’s leadership.

Last week, a motley bipartisan crew of representatives including Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) and John Olver (D-Mass.) stood beside Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) to introduce companion legislation to the senators’ Climate Stewardship Act. The House version, like the Senate’s, proposes to set a mandatory cap for greenhouse-gas emissions and create a market-based carbon-dioxide trading system that would allow companies to buy and sell the right to pollute.

Though the senators’ bill met expected defeat on the Senate floor last fall, the narrow 43-55 loss stunned both sides and presented powerful evidence of a growing consensus that federal measures to address global warming are needed.

“Every week now, we have a new study come out on the increases of greenhouse gases,” said McCain at a press conference with the sponsors of the House bill. “The overwhelming body of scientific opinion shows that global warming and its ill effects exist.”

McCain and Lieberman plan to bring their bill up for another vote in the Senate this spring.

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“We’re very hopeful,” said Casey Aden-Wansbury, Lieberman’s press secretary. “We’re seeing more and more economists and scientists voicing their concerns about global warming, and taking those concerns to Senate leaders. Even the Pentagon — hardly a traditionally pro-environment institution — has come out with a report on the growing threat of global warming, which could help [reform] some cynics and bring new supporters on board.”

While Aden-Wansbury said it’s too early to predict how many new yea votes Lieberman and McCain will be able to recruit for their bill, the senators are confident they’ll get more support this time around.

The House, however, tends to be far less amenable to environmental regulations than the Senate — downright hostile, even.

“Chances are, we may not see the bill on the House floor this Congress,” Olver’s press secretary, Nicole Letourneau, admitted. “It may not even make it to committee hearings, and everybody kind of knows that. But the Senate bill is going to come up again soon, and part of the reasoning [of House bill supporters] is to help generate much more awareness and support for the Senate version.”

Asked at the press conference to predict a timeline for the bill, Gilchrest and Olver agreed that it would require patience: Olver said it might take some years. Gilchrest was more upbeat, saying, “It could happen the next Congress.”

Richard Pombo.

Photo: U.S. House.

Given the current Republican leadership in the House, however, even Olver’s modest timeline seems optimistic: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), chair of the House Resources Committee and author of countless editorials along the lines of “Drilling Won’t Harm Environment,” are two of the nation’s most stridently anti-environment politicians.

“The current House leadership might give one cause to feel a little bit depressed,” said Jon Coifman, spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council‘s Climate Center.

But, he added, spirits are buoyed by a growing number of GOP-backed initiatives on climate change. Republican Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Calif.) and George Pataki (N.Y.), for instance, have supported unprecedented state and regional climate-change initiatives in the last year. A major bipartisan carbon-trading initiative among nearly a dozen East Coast states from Maryland to Maine is in the works.

“There’s a sea change of activity on this matter,” said Coifman, “and this Stewardship Act initiative in the House is no exception. Already you’re seeing support from an unusual list of Republicans. We’re thrilled to see that there are strange fellows in this bed.”

Half of the 20 cosponsors of the House bill are Republicans, including Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), Jim Greenwood (R-Penn.), Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.), Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.), Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), and James Walsh (R-N.Y.).

Boehlert’s support in particular is critical given that he is chair of the House Committee on Science, one of two committees to which the bill has been referred for hearings (the other is the Committee on Energy and Commerce). Boehlert’s spokesperson said a hearing on the bill is not yet on the agenda for this congressional session, but given that Boehlert is a cosponsor of the measure, there’s reason to be hopeful.

“The most important thing to remember is that last year there wasn’t a bipartisan effort in both chambers of Congress on global warming,” said Letorneau. “Now we’ve got it. There’s a lot of work to do, but we have to start the work somewhere. The introduction of this bill means the gates have opened.”

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