Historic markup begins on Clean Energy and Climate Bill

After weeks of negotiation with House committee members over what language would be included in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 when it was formally introduced, committee chair Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and his cosponsor Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, have released the final language of the groundbreaking legislation and began marathon markup sessions on the bill May 18.

Waxman and Markey said they hoped the first comprehensive energy and climate bill ever to be voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives would be sent to the House floor by Memorial Day.

This legislation will for the first time require polluters to pay for the costs of dumping carbon pollution into the air, and will create a whole new clean energy industry and the businesses and jobs to support it.

Thanks to the advocacy efforts of The Wilderness Society and other land conservation groups, the bill also provides dedicated funding to safeguard natural resources — including America’s public lands — from the expected impacts of global warming. In a statement issued on May 14, Wilderness Society Bill Meadows said he was “extremely gratified” that Waxman, Markey and the committee had strengthened the bill by adding this funding, and urged passage of the bill without weakening amendments.

“In the end, all human health depends on keeping America’s natural ecosystems functioning well,” Meadows noted.

However, the funding provided in the version of H.R. 2454 being marked up this week is not nearly enough to meet the huge needs of America’s wild lands in a warming world.

A letter sent to the committee today and signed by The Wilderness Society and other lands groups notes that “billions of dollars will be needed to strengthen, nourish and rebuild coastal marshes, coral and oyster reefs, headwater forests, and wetlands, restore natural floodplains, thin uncharacteristically dense forests, and protect and connect grasslands mountain corridors to serve as migratory paths for wildlife.” Calling the funding provided by H.R. 2454 “an important start towards setting in place these essential strategies,” the groups asked that 5% of total allowance values in the bill be dedicated to natural resource adaptation, and pledged to work with the committee and the House “to find the additional resources necessary to fund this vital work.”

In his opening statement at today’s committee markup, Rep. Waxman noted that energy legislation “is by its nature contentious.” Nevertheless, he said, “we have been able to bridge these differences and build a remarkable coalition behind this legislation.”

Even with broad-based support — and polls that continue to show a strong majority of the American public favoring the Waxman-Markey clean energy jobs bill — getting a strong bill to the House floor by Memorial Day is a tall order. Led by ranking minority member Joe Barton of Texas, Republicans who oppose the bill plan to introduce no fewer than 450 amendments to H.R. 2454, nearly all of them designed to weaken the bill or delay its implementation.

To those who argue that there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and clean energy, “that is a false choice,” Waxman said today. “Our economic prosperity and a clean energy future are inextricably linked.” He noted that the Clean Air Act brought out similar doomsayers when that historic bill was introduced, but “we passed the law, cleaned our air, and grew our economy. Our economy soared over 200% at the same time our pollution was cut by more than half.”

The choice, Waxman said, is clear: “We can continue to look the other way and leave these problems to our children. Or we can adopt a new energy policy for America.”