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Power play drives climate policy

Parliamentary maneuvers in Congress can seem like inside baseball to those who don’t follow it every day, but this stuff really matters.

Take the recent example of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) ousting Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. For years, Dingell has been a roadblock to meaningful climate legislation in the House. Representing Detroit and environs since 1955, Dingell has pushed the interests of the auto industry as bills took shape in his committee.

He claimed to be genuinely seeking a solution to global warming when he released a legislative draft in October. But as my colleague Mark Mondik observes, the Dingell-Boucher legislative proposal would move too slowly to confront the greenhouse gas problem. The bill could also prevent progressive states like California from taking its own actions to reduce emissions.

In contrast, Rep. Waxman has championed environmental issues since he entered Congress in 1974. Two years ago, he introduced the Safe Climate Act of 2006, which would use an economy-wide cap and trade program to freeze emission levels in 2010, reduce them 2% per year through 2020, and then 5% per year through 2050. This type of bill could become the starting point for debate when the new House Energy and Commerce Committee convenes in January.

Keep in mind that the full House (now 256 Democrats and 175 Republicans) only needs a majority vote to pass legislation. The road could be tougher in the Senate where senators from 25 states with significant coal production or use could have a disproportionate influence on the legislative outcome. Senate bills must secure 60 out of 100 votes to avoid a filibuster — the parliamentary tactic that derailed the Lieberman-Warner proposal last June.

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