The Obama administration joined environmentalists Friday in heaping praise on Texas Democratic Reps. Charlie Gonzalez and Gene Green for helping climate change legislation win approval by a congressional committee.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the pair "courageous" for joining 30 other Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in voting for the roughly 1,000-page bill late Thursday.
With a relatively close vote of 33-25, the support from Green and Gonzalez was key -- one reason panel Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., spent weeks negotiating with them on a plan to cushion refiners from the proposal's financial cost.
Waxman's agreement to give refiners 2 percent of an annual pool of valuable pollution permits helped seal the deal.
Both lawmakers represent congressional districts with major refining operations. Green's territory includes refining plants along the Houston ship channel. The headquarters of refiners Tesoro Corp. and Valero Energy Corp., are in San Antonio.
Gonzalez also secured changes designed to ensure a San Antonio power plant would eventually get some of the free permits -- even though it won't go online until late 2010.
Their support -- despite the oil industry's broad criticism of the climate change plan -- could sway other oil-patch Democrats to back the bill when it is debated by the full House later this year.
Climate change legislation moving through Congress would give refiners free permits to emit greenhouse gases under a compromise engineered by a Texas Democrat whose Houston district includes many petrochemical plants.
Rep. Gene Green led the push for refiners along with Democratic Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, who represents San Antonio -- home to the corporate headquarters of refiners Valero Energy and Tesoro Corp.
The two lawmakers got the deal added to a climate change bill agreed to by most Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and backed by the measure's two sponsors, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Green and Gonzalez also scored a major concession sought by oil companies when committee leaders scrapped a proposal that would impose steadily stiffer limits on transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions -- and make the industry pay for allowances to cover the excess pollutants released when their fuel is burned.
The Waxman-Markey bill, which the Energy and Commerce Committee is slated to consider next week, would cap carbon dioxide emissions at 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.
Power plants, refiners, manufacturers and other operations could exceed the limits by buying and exchanging emissions allowances on a new carbon-trading market.
To defray costs for some polluting industries, Waxman and Markey agreed to give away more than half of those allowances in the early years of the so-called "cap-and-trade" plan, with the bulk of them -- 35 percent -- going to local electricity distributors.
An additional 15 percent would be donated to trade-sensitive industries, and 3 percent would be given to automakers.
Eventually, companies would be weaned off the free allowances and would then have to buy the permits from the federal government at auction.
Under the deal with Green and Gonzalez, refiners would get 2 percent of the free allowances starting in 2014 and ending in 2026.
On Friday, that agreement was being attacked by both oil industry leaders, who said it wouldn't offer enough economic protection, and environmentalists, who complained it was an unnecessary giveaway.
Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said the 2 percent free allowances is "inequitable" because it falls short of the roughly 4.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions estimated to come from refiners.
The result, he said, will be "greater costs on consumers and producers of oil and gas."
Yo, Democrats. You were given a mandate this past November. Please act like it.
Democratic leaders pushing to cap greenhouse gas emissions were working Wednesday to appease key lawmakers who want to ease the financial burden that the climate change plan would impose on consumers and refiners.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who plans to formally introduce his climate change bill today, said that he expects a new compromise deal will have enough votes on his 59-member House Energy and Commerce Committee to be approved by the panel next week.
But Waxman spent much of Wednesday huddling with wavering Democratic lawmakers on the panel to shore up support for the measure. The skeptics included Texas Democrats Gene Green and Charlie Gonzalez, who want concessions for refiners in the Lone Star State, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., who wants tax relief for low-income households to defray expected higher energy costs.
The cornerstone of the bill is a plan to cap carbon dioxide emissions blamed for contributing to global warming.
Under the compromise, greenhouse gas emissions would be capped at 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020 -- a looser standard than the 20 percent reduction Waxman had originally sought. That proposed cap is more rigorous than the 14 percent goal President Barack Obama has sought or the 6 percent target advocated by some committee Democrats.
To exceed the limits, power plants, refiners, manufacturers and other industries would have to buy emissions allowances on a new carbon market. But after weeks of negotiations, committee Democrats have agreed to give away 35 percent of the allowances to electric utilities, 15 percent to trade-sensitive industries such as timber and steel manufacturing and a small number to the auto industry.
Still undecided was the question of how many allowances should be given to refiners, with the final number likely to rest between 1 percent and 5 percent.
Green, the unofficial leader of a group of oil-patch Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, was pushing the higher number.
He said he wanted to vote for a bill that limits CO2 emissions, "but does it in a way that is reasonable."
"There's some flexibility" in the allowance allocation, Green said, "but 1 percent is not in the ballpark."
After meeting with Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Gonzalez said he was "feeling really good" that he would get enough concessions for refiners and would vote for the legislation.
We've discussed this before. Rep. Green is a fine Congressman, who has groomed a large number of very capable proteges. He's also an electoral juggernaut, and you don't get to be that way without being responsive to your constituents. So if you live in CD29 and you want Rep. Green to do the right thing, it's up to you to tell him so. A diverse group of activists will be gathering in his district today at noon to urge him to support climate change legislation. Click on to read about this and participate if you can.
UPDATE: Looks like we have a deal.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., signed off on the compromise with Texas Democrats Gene Green and Charlie Gonzalez. The cornerstone of their deal was a commitment to donate at least 2 percent of valuable carbon dioxide emissions permits to refiners.
The compromise on refiners -- tentatively agreed to late Thursday but still subject to last-minute negotiations -- could help Waxman and Markey steer their contentious climate change measure through the 59-member Energy and Commerce Committee next week.
The measure also is buoyed by a new agreement among many committee Democrats on core parts of the bill, including a plan to freely give away more than 50 percent of those emission allowances to electric power distributors, trade-sensitive industries and automakers.
"We are now one huge step toward creating a 100-year solution to the carbon problem ... that will protect consumers," Markey said.
Green of Houston and Gonzalez of San Antonio said that with the changes aimed at helping refiners and other modifications, they expected to vote for the legislation next week.
The pair, whose districts are home to the plants and headquarters of major U.S. refiners, had been pushing for 5 percent of emission allowances to be given to the industry.
Under the deal Green and Gonzalez reached with Waxman and Markey, the free allowances for refiners could begin phasing out as early as 2014; refiners would eventually have to purchase all of the allowances they need from the federal government in an auction.
By contrast, the free allowances for electric utilities would phase out over five years beginning in 2025.
Green said the deal also would delay the implementation of a proposed low-carbon fuel standard until at least 2023 -- a change from Waxman and Markey's initial plan to phase in the standard as early as 2014.
The low-carbon standard, designed to promote advanced biofuels made from plant materials, would require escalating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels.
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 .
Congrats to former State Rep. Juan Garcia on his new gig.
The White House issued a news release announcing Juan Garcia, Obama's former law school classmate and one-term Texas House member, will be nominated to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs).
Obama said of the slate of administration nominees announced along with Garcia:
"These fine public servants are welcome additions to my team as we work to put America on a path towards prosperity and keep our nation safe. I am honored they will be joining my administration and look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead."
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.
Specter's decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken's victory in the state Supreme Court.)
"I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary," said Specter in a statement. "I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election."
He added: "Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans."
1. I sure hope the Democrats got some kind of assurances about how Specter would vote going forward, because he needed them way more than they needed him. Given that he's reiterated his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, the opening stanza isn't too promising.
2. In many ways, this really doesn't change much. Yes, assuming Sen. Al Franken gets seated sometime before he stands for re-election, this gives the Democrats the magic number of 60 members. The thing is, Senate Democrats have been a bigger obstacle to President Obama's agenda than any other group. Conservative Dems such as Sen. Ben Nelson have the leverage to foil, water down, or otherwise pimp to their liking just about anything Obama wants to push. Specter's switch doesn't change this dynamic at all.
3. Having said that, there is a way in which Specter's switch could have a profound effect:
Arlen Specter (R-PA) is rumored to be ready to become Arlen Specter (D-PA). There are a million aspects of that worth examining. But here's one for process nuts. Check out the Senate Judiciary Committee Rules:
IV. BRINGING A MATTER TO A VOTE
The Chairman shall entertain a non-debatable motion to bring a matter before the Committee to a vote. If there is objection to bring the matter to a vote without further debate, a roll call vote of the Committee shall be taken, and debate shall be terminated if the motion to bring the matter to a vote without further debate passes with ten votes in the affirmative, one of which must be cast by the minority.
Your current lineup of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Which of these fellas do you think will be ready to provide the necessary one vote from the minority to bring things to a vote in the committee on tough questions now?
4. Speaking of which, how does this affect the KBH will-she-stay-or-will-she-resign equation? Short answer: beats the beck out of me. On the one hand, you'd think Sen. Cornyn would want her to stay that much more. On the other hand, once Franken is in place, as he inevitably will be, what difference does it make? As always, the answer is "Who knows what KBH will do?"
5. Having said that, prepare to have your mind blown even further. I don't see any way in which this happens, nor do I see rank and file Democrats being that thrilled at the prospect, for better or worse. But crazier things have happened, and there is an objective logic to it.
6. Dealing with party switchers in general causes headaches and almost always comes with a fair bit of bellyaching up front. Which is totally understandable, especially in the case of someone as obviously calculating and driven by self-interest as Specter is. I get where people like Atrios are coming from, I really do, and it's completely possible that what we'll get is a nominal Democrat who doesn't really change his behavior in any meaningful way. Even worse, we may be sacrificing the chance to elect a better Democrat in 2010 and risk losing to a Republican who's slightly less crazy than Pat Toomey (not a high bar to clear), since the case against Specter pretty much writes itself. He's going to have to prove himself, and I hope Dems like Joe Sestak keep their powder dry until it's clear that Specter is walking the walk. Here in Texas, we've had some very good results, as State Rep. Kirk England has been a fine member of the Democratic caucus, and State Sen. Wendy Davis (who had some Republican voting history but had never held office as a Republican) is a rising star having by my count an outstanding freshman session. Whether or not the past stays in the past depends entirely on what happens going forward. It's totally up to Sen. Specter.
7. Finally, whatever else this is about, I love Specter's rationale for switching. It's an acknowledgment of reality, something which his now-former colleagues have less and less experience with these days. Once upon a time, party switchers helped the GOP grow bigger and stronger. Now it's helping them grow smaller and weaker. I couldn't be happier about that.
They sure do seem to like flushing their money away in Farmers Branch.
The Farmers Branch City Council will spend nearly a half-million dollars more to cover the cost of legal fees incurred by two groups that have challenged the city's ordinances on illegal immigration.
Since 2006 to Tuesday's council decision, the city has spent about $2 million on legal fees related to illegal immigration.
Mayor Tim O'Hare and attorney Pete Smith declined to comment on the mediated settlement of $250,000 with the Villas at Parkside Partners and $220,000 with Alfredo Vasquez and the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We are grateful to have settled the matter of attorneys' fees in our first case against the city of Farmers Branch. Now we can concentrate on current litigation," said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas.
What's funny about this is that the same type of people who bitch and moan about every penny the city of Houston wants to spend on this program or that seem to be just fine with Farmers Branch spending its money in this fashion. I guess it's all a matter of what your priorities are.
Here's another update from the Handmade Toy Alliance, in the form of a letter to the President on the current state of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) and the need for a technical amendment to it for small businesses. It was written by my cousin Jill, who has been working hard to get the needed changes made to the law so she and many like her can continue to stay in business. Again, it looks like they've got support in Congress for their efforts, but there's a lot to be done, and there's not a lot of time. Check it out, and get involved.
Governor Perry writes a letter to the Department of Homeland Security.
Perry asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano this week to take a series of steps to improve information-sharing between federal, state and local law enforcement. The Homeland Security-related issues "seriously affect public safety in Texas," Perry wrote earlier this week in a letter to Napolitano.
A spokeswoman for Napolitano, Sara Kuban, said Napolitano would respond directly to Perry and declined to comment on the specific issues raised in the letter.
The governor's requests include:
- Giving all Texas jails access to a database that automatically checks suspects' immigration history. So far, 19 of the 252 jails in the state with electronic fingerprint booking participate in the program, including the Harris County Sheriff's Office and Houston Police Department.
Those 19 jails have checked 37,000 people through the database since last fall, and have identified 8,844 with fingerprints on file with immigration officials, according to Perry's letter.
Perry specifically cited the case of Wilfido Alfaro, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who avoided deportation after multiple arrests in Texas and last month shot and critically wounded a Houston Police officer.
- Requiring ICE officials to notify the state when they deport a foreign national with a Texas driver's license, which would close a gap that has allowed illegal immigrants to keep valid state identification. For example, according to local investigators, Alfaro had a Texas driver's license, even though an immigration judge ordered him to leave the country in 2001.
- Keeping illegal immigrants convicted of crimes in federal custody until their deportation. Perry cited a recent case involving two Cubans convicted of robbery in Florida and dropped by immigration officials at a bus stop in Willacy, Texas, after being released from custody.
Based on a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, immigration officials have about six months to deport or release immigrants after their immigration case is decided. To hold someone longer, the federal government must show that a foreign government will issue the detainee travel documents in the "reasonably foreseeable future" or certify that the person meets stringent criteria to be classified as a danger to society or national interest.
In cases involving immigrants from countries like Cuba, which lacks a repatriation treaty with the U.S., the detainees routinely are released from immigration custody within six months because they cannot be deported.
The earlier story about DA Pat Lykos' "no plea bargains unless you confess your immigration status to us" proposal is a different kettle of fish. Mark Bennett gets into some of the problems with this idea, which he also sums up in a simple question, but it's John Nova Lomax with a truly impressive deconstruction of the Lykos Plan. I can't really add anything to what he wrote, so go check it out for yourself.
Former Rep. Nick Lampson, who was a big advocate for NASA while he was in Congress, is now on the short list to become NASA's administrator.
The 64-year-old Stafford Democrat, whose Houston-area congressional district included Johnson Space Center, has joined a short list of prospective nominees for the $177,000-a-year post.
Former astronaut Charles Bolden Jr., a retired Marine Corps major general, also remains in contention, in part because of support from Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate panel that oversees NASA.
The selection of a NASA administrator has dragged on for months. It has been complicated by political divisions within the NASA community, rival candidates favored by Texas and Florida lawmakers and a White House distracted by a national economic crisis.
A bipartisan group of 14 lawmakers -- including seven Texans -- recently wrote Obama to express their concern about the absence of a NASA administrator.
Freshman Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who defeated Lampson in November's congressional election, said he found the lengthy delay "extremely troubling," especially with NASA's budget being considered by the House and critical decisions over program milestones mounting.
"I'm very concerned that five months after the election, we've still only heard rumors from the administration regarding the next NASA administrator," said Olson, who serves as ranking Republican on the House panel that oversees NASA.
Scott Pace, a former NASA official directing George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, said Obama would be looking for a two-person leadership team on which the administrator enjoys a strong relationship with the president and Congress -- and the deputy administrator would have broad technical expertise. "Between the two officials, you need to be able to operate up and out to the White House, Congress and the public -- as well as manage down and into the agency," Pace said.
Lampson, a political moderate with friendships that cross party lines, could help the $18 billion-a-year agency negotiate the treacherous political shoals of Capitol Hill.
Which Republicans do you have in mind for that?
Slowdown at the Mint
That other budget
The HTA and the Times
Will we get a piece of the stimulus?
Handmade Toy Alliance wins a stay
How much would you pay for that post office?
Let's always elect our Senators
The border camera boondoggle blues
And now the real work begins
S-CHIP passes the House again
Open Letter to Artisans and Authors Regarding CPSIA
More on the Handmade Toy Alliance
The Handmade Toy Alliance
The border fence versus nature
Yet another Farmers Branch lawsuit
El Paso versus the border fence
Tough times for recycling
Gen. Shinseki to head Veterans Affairs
CHC pushes Noriega for Veterans Affairs
Perry to whine to Obama about the environment
Noriega to Washington?
The border fence boondoggle blues
License to drive
Fence finds funding
Is the light beginning to dawn on Farmers Branch?
Those chickens haven't hatched yet. You sure you want to count them?
I got those bad asset blues
Rally for health care reform
Farmers Branch restrained again
Get cracking on those new greenbacks!
Border fence: Now over budget, too!
Once more to the courthouse for Farmers Branch
Final judgment against Farmers Branch
An end to recorded sales calls?
Self-deportation not a hit
Cornyn takes a stand
The chef was a spy
From the "National laboratory for bad government" department
RIP, Bill Gwatney
PETA and the fence
Parks and Wildlife versus the border fence
UT-Brownsville wins concessions on border fence
John Edwards in town
Culberson: Let me revise and extend those remarks
Check your citizenship
From the "Things are tough all over" department
Culberson v. NASA
Why can't they advertise?
Steffy on the Pickens Plan
Hopefully the last thing to say about the Twitter battle
Capuano responds to Culberson
More on the Twitter battle in Congress
Pickens' plan for wind and natural gas
Use Twitter for good, not for evil
RIP, Jesse Helms
The Experiment Continues to Illuminate
And now they arrest the bosses
AMA runs ad criticizing anti-Medicare vote
Why arrest the bosses when you can arrest the workers?
Supreme Court sanctions the fence
The immigration problem
Now that's a burial
Chertoff goes on the offensive and gets offensive
Judge strikes down Farmers Branch anti-immigrant law
Remake that greenback!
Border coalition sues Homeland Security over the fence
Name one, John!
California Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage
What's the matter with Dallas suburbs?
The "virtual fence" gains fans
ICE versus employers
Once again with the penny
RIP, Mildred Loving
That other border
Give it away now
If you don't have the cash, don't get the disease
Workers Memorial Day
So much for the "virtual fence"
Border fence lawsuit update
At long last, he unites us
Breaching the fence
If the law is in your way, ignore it
The case against the penny
Some border wall lawsuits dropped
Now that's a high-rise
El Paso puts up a roadblock to the border fence
The new fiver
New penny coming?
Border wall lawsuit ruling
"The next slums"
You can't put a fence through a golf course!
Meet Antonio Villaraigosa
Suits and countersuits over the border fence
Another Farmers Branch lawsuit
The southern storms and how to help
A change of direction for the border wall?
Farmers Branch asks judge to okay new ordinance
First round to the government in border access lawsuits
Hooray for the No Call List!
Farmers Branch does it again
Feds blindside Eagle Pass, file other suits
Another step towards the cliff for Farmers Branch
Feds sue Eagle Pass over land access for border fence
Memorial service for Joan Ehrlich
Hutchison and the border fence
New Presidential dollar coins coming
Border fence protest in McAllen
Memo to the netroots on immigration
Feds set to sue landowners over access for border fence
RIP, Evel Knievel
Border webcams to come online again
Madison coin makes its debut
From the Unintended Consequences Department
Farmers Branch loses another one in court
Border mayors tell feds to stay off their property
The Catholic Church versus the border wall
Farmers Branch, this may be your life
Border fence details now available
The five-spot gets a makeover
Like An Episode Of 24, Only It Really Happened
The progressive blogosphere cares about the Jena 6
Lawsuit against updated Georgia voter ID law dismissed
DOJ opposes net neutrality
Another year, another dollar coin design
The magic C-note
Fixing the fence
I don't see any dissent. Do you?
Why does the President want children to be sick?
Cater to me or else!
Hands Across El Rio
About those border cameras...
Cornyn still flipflopping on the fence
Against it before he was for it
Lampson op-ed on Farm Bill
Judge overturns Hazelton anti-immigrant law
Texas portion of border fence construction to begin next year
Border fence buyer's remorse for Cornyn
Farmers Branch seeks a makeover
Bush Promises To Veto CHIP Expansion
But, Do We Need To Stock Up On Duct Tape?
Border sheriffs say "Where's our money?"
Send Bush A Birthday Card
Fly like an eagle
Farmers Branch and Hazelton
Not so clever Hans
Steve Murdock gets a new gig
Happy Loving Day
Restraining order extended in Farmers Branch
Restraining order extended in Farmers Branch
Stop the damn fence!
TRO granted in Farmers Branch lawsuit
Farmers Branch lawsuits filed
More border fence opposition
News flash: Border wall still hated on the border
Round Rock immigration protest lawsuit settled
The fraud of voter fraud
Won't you be my forever stamp?
Get well soon, Rep. Lampson
The politics of the Saint Patrick's Day Parade
More silliness in Farmer's Branch
When you've lost Cornyn...
Are you ready to spring forward?
In politics, as in the comics, no one is ever truly dead
Springing forward sooner
TAB comes out against immigrant bashing
News flash: People still like the greenback
Property values up, crime down in Farmer's Branch
Farmer's Branch tries again
New dollar coin set to arrive in Houston this week
Farmer's Branch backs down
Smoking bans make headway nationwide
Border mayors say "NO!" to the fence