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Democrats push for votes on climate bill

WASHINGTON (AP)--Democrats scrambled for votes June 25 on a climate bill that would for the first time limit the pollution blamed for global warming as the White House stepped up pressure on reluctant lawmakers and former Vice President Al Gore tried to stave off any defections.

President Barack Obama, in a planned White House Rose Garden appearance, was expected to argue that the legislation will create new "green'' energy jobs and help wean the nation away from foreign oil.

Republicans have argued for weeks that the climate legislation amounts to a massive energy tax because it will force higher prices on electricity, gasoline and other energy sources as the economy shifts from cheaper fossil fuels, or companies and utilities are forced to buy pollution allowances.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, has scheduled a vote on the bill for June 26. While Democratic support has been growing, she is still believed to be short of the votes needed to get the bill through.

The Senate, meanwhile, is waiting for the House to act. Approval of a climate bill in the Senate has been viewed as a long shot because it will require 60 votes to overcome a certain filibuster. And that has made a decision by some House Democrats to vote for the politically charged bill even harder.

The legislation would require the country to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and about 80 percent by the next century. To do that, electricity producers and industrial plants will have to make a dramatic shift away from the use of fossil fuels through increased efficiency, move toward greater use of renewable energy, or pay for ways to capture carbon emissions.

Democrats have sought to limit the economic impact by making available pollution allowances to utilities and energy-intensive industries. But some Democratic lawmakers, from regions where utilities and factories rely heavily on coal, remain worried about higher energy prices and the impact that might have on voters.

Other Democrats have complained too many concessions have been made to garner broader support, weakening the bill's impact on combatting the climate problem. Gore, the leading American voice on climate change, was making phone calls from his home in Tennessee to shore up support among those lawmakers as well as others.

"This is historic legislation,'' Pelosi said at a news conference June 24. "You want to have a good, strong committed vote.''

While environmental groups as well as a number of business organizations and corporations have endorsed the bill, other industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have called for its defeat. Despite the concession to farmers, the American Farm Bureau Federation said June 24 it remains opposed, calling the bill "seriously flawed.''

To try to get that vote, the bill's sponsors have been horse trading with a succession of Democratic lawmakers.

As a result, the nuclear industry stands to gain from an added provision that would make nuclear reactor projects eligible for loans from a new "green'' energy development bank. The bill also would make it easier to obtain loan guarantees for new reactors.

In a nod to farm groups and the ethanol industry, the bill's sponsors agreed to bar the EPA for at least six years from considering international land use changes when determining whether corn ethanol is a climate-friendly fuel. Environmentalists have argued that corn ethanol emits more greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline if global land use changes as a result of greater corn demand are taken into account.

Those seeking greater commercial access to federal forests also won a prize in the last-minute negotiations. Inserted into the climate bill was an expanded definition of "biofuels'' to include salvage lumber and brush from federal forests.

Rural electric cooperatives, who had argued they were being treated unfairly in the distribution of emission allowances, won an agreement to funnel more allowances their way.

And farmers were assured more favorable treatment in how so-called pollution "offsets'' are managed. These are credits farmers can sell in exchange for planting trees or adopting practices that sequester carbon in the ground.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said those and other changes turned him from one of the bill's sharpest critics to an advocate. "I think we'll be able to get the votes to pass this,'' said Peterson.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that three-quarters of Americans think the federal government should regulate the release of greenhouse gases, and 56 percent said they would approve such measures even if it increased their monthly electricity costs by $10.

"What we see is a job killer,'' Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House, said at a news conference June 24. "There's no question the cap-and-trade will cost millions of jobs'' and higher energy prices.

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