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House Republicans Unveil Alternative Energy Plan

Trying to put their mark on national energy policy, a group of House Republicans last Wednesday unveiled an alternative energy plan to the Democrats' climate change bill that is headed towards a House vote later this month. Reports last week indicated that a growing number of House Democrats also are balking at the legislation, but this isn't expected to jeopardize its passage.

The alternative bill, proposed by a Republican group led by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), focuses on the licensing of 100 new nuclear reactors over the next 20 years by streamlining the regulatory process and ensuring the recycling and safe storage of spent nuclear fuel.

The legislation, known as the American Energy Act, also proposes to increase domestic oil and natural gas supply by lifting restrictions on drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge, the Outer Continental Shelf and in the Mountain West. The revenues generated through domestic exploration would support innovation in renewable and alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar technologies, the Republicans said.

"The Republicans [propose an] all-of-the-above strategy. We're going to say 'yes' to giving the American people more access to American oil, more domestic exploration for natural gas and coal; 'yes' to renewables like wind and solar; and we're going to say a deafening 'yes' to nuclear energy," said Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference and chairman of the American Energy Solutions Group, on MSNBC last Wednesday.

Pence and other House Republicans drafted the legislation after holding a number of forums on energy issues throughout the country. The American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents major producers, estimated that the Republican bill will provide benefits of nearly $2 trillion in additional revenue, thousands of new jobs and more domestic oil and gas supplies. "This bill recognizes that we need more of all sources of energy to meet growing demand," said API President Jack Gerard.

The legislation does not address a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, which the House Republicans contend amounts to a national tax on energy. "We just don't need to pass legislation like cap and trade that will amount to a national energy tax [and] harm our economy at a time...when every American small business is struggling to make ends meet," Pence said.

"There's a better way. Republicans will outline that and...I have a gut feeling there's a lot of concern even among many Democrats on Capitol Hill about the national energy tax looking for a better solution."

The Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation have estimated that the cap-and-trade legislation (HR 2454), voted out by the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month, would generate $846 billion for the federal government from 2010 through 2019 (see NGI, May 25).

The Republican bill is being offered as a substitute for the cap-and-trade legislation drafted by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA). The centerpiece of their climate change legislation is a system that would set a cap on carbon emissions and allow polluting industries to purchase and trade emission credits to comply with the cap. The measure seeks to cut heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions by 83% in 2050.

The Waxman-Markey legislation has the strong backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has directed other House committees with jurisdiction over the bill to not make major changes.

The House Republicans were blocked from trying to put their imprint on the climate change bill in committee, and it's unlikely that they will substantially change it on the House floor.

There were reports last week that opposition by even House Democrats to controversial climate change bill has grown. But this isn't likely to jeopardize passage by the full House later this month, a ConocoPhillips official said last Thursday.

"I think with the strong support of the administration and Democratic majority that they can make this happen by the end of the month," said Red Cavaney, senior vice president for government affairs at ConocoPhillips in Washington, DC. "It may well have to undergo a series of changes on the floor," but "I would be surprised if they don't ultimately succeed in getting a bill passed."

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) has raised questions about the effect of the climate change legislation on farming interests. And he "is awaiting answers...before he commits" to the bill, Cavaney said.

Peterson is at an impasse with the leading sponsor of the climate change bill, Waxman, and has said that he has a number of House Democrats -- as many as 45 votes -- who oppose the bill, The Hill newspaper reported. The number of defections could play havoc with the bill in the House.

"Given the breadth of the bill," it "should surprise no one" that questions are being raised, Cavaney said.

"We [ConocoPhillips] have several issues that we had hoped would be addressed, but haven't been so far," including that transportation consumers have not been given the same level of emission protections as utility consumers. Cavaney expects this and other issues to be addressed in the Senate.

In addition to the House Agriculture Committe, the bill has been forwarded to several other committees that have jurisdiction -- Foreign Affairs; Financial Services; Education and Labor; Science and Technology; Transportation and Infrastructure; Natural Resources; and Ways and Means -- before going to the House floor. Pelosi has said she wants all the committee chairmen to complete their work by June 19.

While Cavaney expects the climate change bill to clear the House, he said in April that he thinks it would be a "heavy lift" for the measure to be passed by Congress and sent to the president's desk this year (see NGI, April 27).

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