May 10, 2009
Voting right on climate change

It is, of course, a good thing that President Obama has Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress as he tries to get his agenda implemented. That doesn't mean he'll have smooth sailing, of course - between the weirdly ahistorical insistence on a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate to pass anything and the outsized influence of the so-called "moderates", the upper chamber has been his biggest obstacle so far. But the House can be a challenge as well, as we see in this piece on Rep. Gene Green and the fight over climate change legislation.

A 17-year veteran of Washington politics known for his low-key style and behind-the-scenes approach to legislation, Rep. Gene Green has seen his popularity skyrocket in recent days -- at least with lawmakers eager to write new climate change rules.

The celebrity status comes courtesy of Green's role as one of a handful of moderate Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee. His support is crucial to advancing a sweeping energy and climate change bill.

Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., are courting the Houston Democrat and other wary lawmakers to build backing for their legislation that would cap carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming. Under their bill, power plants, manufacturers and other industrial operations could stay within the new limits by buying and trading emissions allowances, or permits, to spew the pollutant.

The good news for Waxman, Markey and other proponents of the so-called cap-and-trade plan is that Green believes "the United States has to lead" in limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The bad news? Green worries about the potential price tag for oil refiners along the Houston Ship Channel he represents.

"I'd like to vote for a bill," Green said. "But I'm not going to vote for one unless I think it's going to be good for the area I represent."

His eastern Harris County district is home to five refineries and "more chemical plants than I can count."

Green has told congressional leaders and President Barack Obama that some carbon dioxide emission allowances will have to be given for free to refiners in order to win his support .

Green isn't the only member of the Texas delegation to present a roadblock. San Antonio's Rep. Charlie Gonzalez has voiced similar concerns, and gotten some heavy pushback in his district for it. is now running a TV ad in San Antonio urging Rep. Gonzalez to support forward-thinking legislation on climate change. A different ad with the same kind of message is running in Houston - I saw it on KTRK the other night - asking people to call on Rep. Green. Public Citizen, which is among those leading the charge on this, responds to Rep. Green's concerns. I can appreciate his position, but it's important to remember that the cost of doing nothing will be far more substantial than any cap-and-trade implementation. Taking action now, however painful it may appear to be, will be cheaper and easier than putting it off and having to take more drastic action later.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 10, 2009 to National news
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