In a rare display of unanimity Wednesday, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee accepted a Republican amendment to the climate change bill (HR 2454) that would promote the use of natural gas.

“I think it’s a good amendment” because it points the country in the “right direction,” said Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), a die-hard critic of the oil and gas industry. Markey and Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote the climate change bill that is being marked up by the House energy panel this week.

Rep. Joe Barton’s (R-TX) jaw dropped. “You mean you’re going to accept it?” he asked incredulously. The Democratic majority had previously shot down nearly every amendment that Republicans have offered so far.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), would promote the use of natural gas as a “bridge fuel,” especially as a fuel for vehicles, and would encourage the establishment of an infrastructure network to distribute natural gas for vehicles. Democrats and Republicans approved the amendment by voice vote.

The country needs to “make sure we don’t shoot the horse we’re on [natural gas] until we get [another] horse to get on,” Murphy said. “We have [a] 120-year reserve of natural gas in this country,” but the U.S. has only 110,000 natural gas vehicles (NGV) compared to roughly 10 million NGVs in Europe and Asia.

In response to a question, Murphy said he believed that repeal of depletion allowance and intangible drilling costs would be “very detrimental to independent producers in my state.” It would be “catastrophic,” he said, adding that “I think that is something we should not do.”

Barton cautioned Murphy not to get too pro-gas. “I think the majority is going to accept you amendment if we stop talking about it.”

Mark-up of the 946-page climate change legislation dragged along Wednesday, with amendments focusing on title two of the bill. Waxman hopes to vote the bill out of committee by the Memorial Day recess at the end of the week, but that deadline is starting to look unrealistic. Barton has said Republicans plan to offer more than 400 amendments (see Daily GPI, May 20). As committee chairman, Waxman can cut off amendments, but he has not indicated whether he will do this.

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