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August 19, 2014

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WASHINGTON POLITICS:

Love it or hate it, climate change bill heads to Senate

As legislation squeezed through House, partisan divide showed

Floor speeches by Nevadans in House climate change debate

Shelley Berkley, Democrat

I rise today in support of this bill. It addresses climate change, promotes the development of clean-energy sources, and brings us closer to our goal of securing America’s energy independence. This bill also takes extra steps to protect consumers while creating new green jobs.

Nevada is in the forefront of renewable energy use. In 1997 Nevada enacted a renewable portfolio standard requiring that 20 percent of our electricity come from renewable sources by 2015. Nevada’s solar potential, coupled with our state’s geothermal and wind resources, will bring jobs to Nevada and make us a leader in the production of clean energy.

In contrast, the alternative proposed by the House Republicans continues the same old failed policies, including the Yucca Mountain project. It doubles the amount of nuclear waste that can be shipped to Nevada and jams twice as much of this radioactive garbage down our throats.

The Republican plan to more than double the size of the Yucca Mountain dump would only double the danger to families in Nevada and across our nation at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Dean Heller, Republican

Here is the bill. It is 1,201 pages. What does this cost the American taxpayer? It is $700 million a page for this bill. What does this bill do? Every time you flip on your light switch, you are taxed. Every time you drive your kids to school, you are taxed. Every time you cook your family dinner, you are taxed. Air travel, food prices, electricity costs, gas prices, transportation cost all will skyrocket under this bill.

This bill will cost my district a half-billion dollars in economic activity. It will cost my district 5,500 jobs. It will cost my district nearly $650 million in personal income loss in just the first year.

Nevada, as a whole, will lose 14,000 jobs. Mining, housing, farming, ranching, tourism industries will be devastated at a time when Nevadans are hurting. The majority can’t afford the time for hearings or debate, but Americans can’t afford this bill.

Dina Titus, Democrat

I rise in strong support of the Titus-Giffords-Heinrich amendment, which the manager’s amendment incorporates into the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Our amendment will create clean-energy jobs, promote deployment of renewable energy technology, and put the federal government in a position to lead by example. Our amendment extends the limit for the federal government to 20 years on a contract for the acquisition of electricity generated from a renewable energy resource, often referred to as a power purchase agreement. This provision will encourage wide-scale deployment of renewable energy technology at federal buildings, BLM land and Superfund sites. Additionally, it will allow agencies to plan for more sustainable and affordable energy use over an extended period of time. This small change will open the door to government investments in cleaner, more sustainable, and ultimately more cost-beneficial energy technologies.

Our amendment also establishes a Renewable Electricity Standard for federal agencies. This RES will ensure that the federal government meets 20 percent of its electricity demands through renewable energy by 2020. It will drive demand for new, clean-energy technologies and help create new, clean-energy jobs. Indeed, we will be leading by example.

The rowdy House floor debate on climate change provided one of those moments of political theater when it is hard to know whether the warring sides are even talking about the same bill.

In remarks last week Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley praised House Resolution 2454 as legislation that “addresses climate change, promotes the development of clean-energy sources, and brings us closer to our goal of securing America’s energy independence.”

Republican Rep. Dean Heller followed several minutes later.

“What does this bill do? Every time you flip on your light switch, you are taxed. Every time you drive your kids to school, you are taxed. Every time you cook your family dinner, you are taxed … Nevada, as a whole, will lose 14,000 jobs.”

In cop parlance, this is a he said/she said. Hard to know who’s right — except there are some neutral arbiters.

Experts say, and Democrats and Republicans agree, that the bill’s groundbreaking system to cap carbon emissions and trade pollution allowances would result in higher prices. Electricity and gas prices would go up, and companies would pass that along to those who buy the goods — you and me.

But there is help. The bill, approved on a 219-212 vote, provides cash back directly to those with low incomes and senior citizens, as well to companies to offset the higher costs. The money for this aid comes from the sale of pollution allowances.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is helpful here. It estimated the net cost to households will be about $175 per year.

And job losses? CBO says, yes, jobs will be lost, but mostly in specific locations, such as the coal industry in Appalachia. The overall change in “unemployment would be small compared with the normal rate of job turnover in the economy.”

What is very clear, though, is that the bill’s passage last Friday evening says as much about politics as policy.

For Democrats, the narrow victory shows the difficulty President Barack Obama faces in keeping his party on board with his ambitious agenda. Forty-four Democrats voted no, and the legislation faces an uphill climb in the Senate.

Republicans stood practically united against cap-and-trade. Just eight Republicans crossed party lines to vote for climate change legislation — almost as powerful as the unanimous Republican opposition to the economic recovery act.

House Minority Leader John Boehner practically shut down floor proceedings, refusing to yield the floor as he dissected a 300-page amendment unveiled the night before. (Lawmakers in the House cannot filibuster as senators can. Friday evening’s Fili-Boehner, as it has come to be known, was about as close as it gets.)

Within these political stances, both sides envision their political futures, and their strategy for the 2010 midterm elections.

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, who will run for reelection in a swing district that only recently trended toward Democrats, was immediately targeted for criticism by Republicans after the vote. She and Berkley voted yes.

Titus countered that Republicans seemed more interested in blocking the bill than offering solutions.

Titus co-wrote an amendment that had been sought for years by the solar industry, and was passed with the final legislation.

Under her amendment, the solar industry can extend its government contracts. The industry routinely develops solar power systems and sells the energy to government customers under 10-year contracts. Titus’ bill extends the purchase contracts to 20 years, giving solar developers a longer horizon to recoup their investment.

“I think the public is looking for some cooperation,” Titus said. “They’re just seen as the party of ‘No.’ ”

Republicans maintain their bill would have cost less and developed more jobs. However, their bill also promoted the development of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, including a provision to lift the limit on how much waste could be stored at the desert site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Many Nevadans oppose the Yucca Mountain project.

As the action turns to the Senate, the debate continues without a clear route to bipartisan consensus.

Republican Sen. John Ensign thinks the cap-and-trade plan is “a national energy tax that will hit every American just for flipping on a light switch or driving their car,” his spokesman Tory Mazzola said. “From middle-class families to small-business owners, the American people will face a significant tax increase under this plan.”

Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, issued a statement calling the House bill “a courageous step toward a safer and cleaner energy future that will create good jobs, reduce pollution and decrease our dependence on foreign and unsustainable sources of energy.

“The bill is not perfect, but it is a good product for the Senate and our committees to start,” Reid said.

Of course in the Senate, rules allow for the filibuster.

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