Colorado likely to play critical role in shaping clean-energy bill

Denver green jobs rally at Alliance for a Sustainable Colorado, Sept. 27, 2008. (Photo/Greenforall.org)
Denver green jobs rally at Alliance for a Sustainable Colorado, Sept. 27, 2008. (Photo/Greenforall.org)
Colorado’s New Energy Economy will serve as a model and its congressional delegation as a catalyst for a comprehensive energy bill currently being hashed out in a key U.S. House committee, according to one Denver-based environmental advocate closely tracking the legislation.

Keith Hay, energy advocate for Environment Colorado, said Coloradans will play key roles in passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act, introduced March 31 by Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and the environment.

The draft version of the bill was the subject of Energy and Commerce Committee hearings last week and will likely be marked up by Markey’s subcommittee this coming week. It currently contains a renewable energy standard of 25 percent by 2025, as well as a carbon cap that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020.

Colorado has “a key role for a couple of reasons,” Hay said, referring to the state’s renewable energy standard passed by voters in 2004 as part of Amendment 37. “One, we’ve shown that it can be successful as a jobs generator, and the messaging on the renewable energy standard in the global warming bill is really going to be about green jobs and the New Energy Economy. President Obama sort of picked up that term from Governor Ritter.”

The second factor, according to Hay, is Colorado’s growing influence on Capitol Hill where members of the congressional delegation hold plum spots on key committees, including Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, on the Energy and Commerce Committee itself and freshman Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, on the Rules Committee. DeGette is also a chief deputy whip and is responsible for mobilizing the party vote on key legislation.

Representing the district with the renown National Renewable Energy Lab,
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, brings practical technology transfer and economic development expertise to the debate.

“Of course, Congressman [John] Salazar, D-Manassa, being from a rural, fairly conservative district, a blue-dog Democrat, his support for the bill could help swing Blue Dogs,” Hay said. “Similarly, Congresswoman [Betsy] Markey’s from a sort of conservative, rural district and can help swing some more [agricultural] districts,” he said of the Democratic lawmaker from Fort Collins.

Hay said powerful forces are lining up to either water down or altogether derail the energy bill, which also includes an efficiency standard. A full committee vote is expected by Memorial Day, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said she wants it off the floor of the House by Labor Day, an aggressive timetable for such sweeping and controversial legislation.

“So we’ve got some really influential people who are in a state with a renewable energy standard and can make the case to their colleagues in Congress that this works, so I expect to see our members playing some key roles as this thing moves forward,” Hay said.

He added this may the only shot for the Obama administration and a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass a bill with real teeth that carries significant penalties for carbon emissions and therefore provides meaningful incentives for technological innovation and conservation. Hay points to efforts by some southern Democrats to include nuclear and so-called “clean coal” in the renewable standard as counterproductive.

And his organization is fighting what it dubs “sky-high levels of carbon offsets” in the bill, which he said are a dubious means of reducing emissions and could actually weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority. Also, conservationists in general are nervous the bill won’t go far enough in forcing major polluters to pay for exceeding the carbon cap.

“Big Oil, dirty coal, and other polluters have hired more than 2,000 lobbyists to stop the president’s plan — nearly four lobbyists for every member of Congress. They’re working to mold the plan to benefit the status quo, but now is our chance for real change,” Hay said.

Companion bills have already cropped up in the Senate, where Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet are also expected to play key roles in shaping whatever versions wind up being merged with the House bill.

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