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A Breakthrough On The House Climate Bill?

Looks like the House might just conjure up a climate bill, after all. ClimateWire's Darren Samuelsohn reports that Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee appear to have struck agreement on several key components of the big Waxman-Markey bill. Let's just run some of the deals here:

* The bill's cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases will aim to cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, down from 20 percent initially. (As a recent World Resources Institute analysis showed, regulations in the bill for sources not covered by the cap will lower emissions even further). This was one of the key provisions, and Waxman didn't cede much ground here, seeing as how coal- and oil- state Dems wanted to push this target back to a scant 6 percent cut by 2020.

* Lots of pollution allowances under the cap-and-trade system are going to be given away gratis, however. About 35 percent of all permits will get gifted to electric utilities. Industries at risk of fleeing to China, like pulp, paper, cement, and steel, will get another 15 percent of the allowances for free. None of this will weaken the cap—emissions should still steadily diminish. What it does mean is that the government won't be able to raise as much revenue by selling off permits to spend on clean-energy measures or rebates to consumers facing increases as fossil-fuel prices. In other words, this is less an environmental issue than a distributional issue. (For a longer explanation, see this old post.)

* The bill's original draft called for all states to get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. That's been whittled down to 15 percent by 2020, plus a requirement for the states to reduce their energy use 5 percent by curbing waste and boosting efficiency. (And if states can't attain the 15 + 5 target by 2020, they can do 12 + 8.)

* Starting in 2025, the president will have the power to slap down tariffs on carbon-intensive goods from developing nations like China if they haven't followed suit with their own greenhouse-gas rules.

Committee Democrats still have to thrash out some of the finer print, but this looks like the basic shape. Waxman's now saying he can move this sucker out of committee next week.

I think there are a couple ways to look at this bill. No, it's not as stringent as many climate scientists have deemed necessary—the IPCC, recall, recommends that developed countries cut emissions 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to help stave off drastic temperature increases. (Developing countries will have to act, too, but they're never going to move until we do.) But if this bill gets through the House and Senate more or less intact, it will certainly mark a tidal change in U.S. energy policy, with a price on carbon and a huge boost for renewable energy. And a greener bill just isn't politically possible at the moment, which explains why green groups like the Sierra Club, whatever their qualms, are rallying behind the compromise.

What comes next? House Majority Whip James Clyburn told E&E News that he was confident he could get 218 Democratic votes and pass this compromise measure through the House: "I don't know about all the votes, but I think we'll get sufficient votes to pass the bill." Well, of course it won't get all the votes: In all likelihood, not a single House Republican will hop aboard—they're too busy imagining this bill will regulate marathon runners (it won't) and preparing a flurry of amendments for the floor debate. Clyburn's not going to bother with them. The focus will be on 40 or 50 House Democrats that Alabama's Artur Davis claimed would oppose the bill. (Clyburn, for his part, doesn't think this will be a problem.)

--Bradford Plumer