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Democrats’ climate clash heads to floor

The Hill | July 10, 2007
Jonathan E. Kaplan

The intensifying battle between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a powerful committee chairman may lead to a global-warming showdown on the House floor later this month.

The outcome of an anticipated vote on energy legislation before the August recess could determine whether Pelosi will control the debate over a more comprehensive and controversial climate change bill this fall.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Pelosi have been publicly at odds on climate change since the beginning of the Congress. And there have been clear indications recently that the tension between the two high-profile lawmakers is escalating.

As Dingell lobbed fresh insults in an interview late last week at the global warming panel that Pelosi created, Democratic leaders were discussing how to structure the time and format of the energy bill debate, according to Democratic aides and lobbyists familiar with the discussions.

If she is successful in passing legislation that includes a measure to raise fuel standards for cars and trucks, Pelosi will have dealt a blow to Dingell, who favors a slower approach to increasing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

It is unclear whether Pelosi can corral 218 votes to pass such a bill, but she needs the next few weeks to build a coalition, which might have to include Republicans, because some so-called “Oil-Patch” and rural Democrats likely will side with Dingell.

“Pelosi knows or has a good sense that they do not have the votes right now,” said an automobile industry lobbyist, who described the negotiations as fluid.

“If they have the votes, they would roll Dingell. They do not want a messy floor fight. Why fight to lose anyway?” the lobbyist added.

The debate also has tested the relationship between the new Speaker and the dean of the House. While Pelosi and Dingell initially clashed over the creation of a select committee on global warming, sources close to both lawmakers said they have been working hard to resolve policy disputes and to keep their differences from becoming personal.

But in a C-SPAN “Newsmakers” interview taped last week and aired on Sunday, Dingell revived his stinging criticism of the House Select Committee on Climate Change and Global Warming and suggested that the American public was not ready to bear the cost of combating global warming.

“I have seen nothing that they have done that I, frankly, would want to take credit for,” Dingell said. “If I were on that committee, I would have long since asked for the privilege of being removed from it, because, quite frankly, I think it’s an embarrassment to everybody.”

He also proposed introducing measures in the fall to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents and “a very substantial tax” on carbon emissions.

“I sincerely doubt that the American people are willing to pay what this is really going to cost them,” he said.

Some Democratic aides interpreted Dingell’s remarks as a shot at Pelosi and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the global warming panel.

Dingell said, “I’m not running out and picking fights with anybody on this subject.”

Markey rejected the criticism.

“Speaker Pelosi said she was not going to proceed with business as usual, and when you change business as usual you have to expect pushback from those who are used to doing things in conventional ways. We feel we’ve given her some excellent results so far,” said Eben Burnham-Snyder, the select committee’s spokesman.

Markey’s fuel economy bill has been the leading Democratic marker for the past six years; it has garnered 149 cosponsors from both parties this year.

“It is the Democratic proposal that has the broadest bipartisan support. We’re convinced that this is the thing that will end up in the energy bill that will go to the president,” said Burnham-Snyder.

Asked whether Dingell told Pelosi he would publicly back a steep increase in the gas tax, Dingell spokeswoman Jodi Seth said the chairman has expressed his views to the Speaker in meetings dating back to early January.

With Democrats in charge, Pelosi, Markey and their allies are closer than ever to scoring a victory, and they could be less willing to compromise.

A leadership aide said Pelosi is committed to a comprehensive energy bill.

Dingell said on C-SPAN that the Senate-passed measure to increase CAFE standards included “defects,” but he favors raising the fuel efficiency requirements and indicated he could support a measure introduced by Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Baron Hill (D-Ind.).

“I have made it very plain that I intend to see to it that CAFE is increased … They’ve come forward with a bill that does 32 miles for light trucks and 35 miles for automobiles. And they do it by the year — by roughly the same timeframe the Senate does,” Dingell said. “I can support this. I have no problems.”

Seth said Dingell “has been discussing the idea of a carbon emissions fee for several months now and has spoken publicly about it on a number of occasions. He is proposing this idea because he believes it is the best option for addressing the problem.”

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