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Peterson Relents, Big Climate Vote Set For Friday

It would appear that the big Waxman-Markey climate bill will finally come up for a vote on the House floor this Friday. According to Politico, Henry Waxman just banged out an agreement with Collin Peterson, chair of the Agriculture Committee, who's now given the legislation his farm-state benediction. And that means House Dems likely have the votes to pass this sucker.

On first glance, the last-minute deal that Waxman struck with Peterson doesn't look very appealing from an environmental perspective. For one, the USDA will now get primary oversight over what sorts of agricultural projects qualify for offsets under the cap-and-trade program. The EPA will have an undefined role that the Obama administration will have to determine later. (Basically, the EPA takes a much stricter view of what farm projects—from methane capture to no-till farming—actually reduce carbon.)

Waxman also agreed to exempt ethanol from indirect-land-use analysis for five years. In other words, if corn or soy in the United States is grown for fuel and that, in turn, prompts farmers elsewhere to clear a patch of forest and grow their own corn, well, the EPA can't consider that in its assessment of the impacts of ethanol. Joe Romm deems this a minimal concession, since corn-based ethanol is already exempt from this sort of scrutiny, and newer biofuels like cellulosic ethanol—where this rule could do a lot of damage—are more than five years away anyway. That's the optimistic take, at least

Finally, Waxman consented to grab a sliver of the permit money that was slated for renewable energy and give it over to rural coal generators. This won't affect the overall carbon cap, but it's a pretty sleazy giveaway. On the other hand, Waxman really needed farm-state Dems support (since few Republicans will vote for this bill), so he had little choice. More liberal Dems and environmental groups, meanwhile, don't seem interested in playing Peterson's brand of hardball, so it's unlikely the bill will get strengthened. It's also noteworthy that Obama didn't intervene in this last-minute bull session, the way he did earlier when the climate bill was stalling in the energy committee.

--Bradford Plumer