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House narrowly approves climate bill after bitter debate

Agriculture.com Staff 06/26/2009 @ 7:27pm

By the narrowest of margins, 219 to 212, the House of Representatives Friday passed a climate change bill that proponents described as a historic first step to regulate greenhouse gasses and opponents described as a bureaucratic jobs killer.

The Democrats needed 218 votes, and would not have gotten there without the support of eight Republicans. Democrats were even less united, with opposition to the bill coming from 44 , mainly recently elected representatives and those from rural districts.

The bill will put a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from large industries, but exempts agriculture from any emission limits. At the same time, capped industries like coal-fired electric utilities will be able to buy offsets from more efficient industries and from farmers and forest landowners who capture carbon in trees and soil. The bill aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17% by 2020.

"We cannot hold back the future," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the vote, which she said meant support for jobs. Democrats said the cost of the bill to consumers would be modest -- $175 per family in 2020, that it would free the nation from importing oil from hostile dictatorships, and that it would begin to deal with climate change that could harm our children and grandchildren.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) delayed the vote by about an hour by reading from more than 300 pages of amendments to the climate bill that he said were finished at 3 a.m. Friday morning.

"This is the biggest job killer bill that's ever been on the floor of the House of Representatives," Boehner said. He described it as costly and bureaucratic. And he said that the higher costs of energy that would be caused by the bill would make American manufacturing uncompetitive. The bill will increase production costs for steel mills in his district by 30% to 40%, he said, making U.S.steel too costly for a struggling U.S. auto industry.

"What do you think they're going to do? They'll buy it from China. They'll buy it from India," Boehner said.

Many of the Republican opponents are from rural Districts. They described agriculture as an energy-intensive industry that will be hurt by higher costs for fuel and fertilizer.

"Agriculture sits squarely in the crosshairs of this bill because it's energy intensive," said Representative Frank Lucas, the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee.

Several Republicans, including Representative Steve King of Iowa, said that even though the bill could benefit some farmers who are already selling carbon credits in private programs, those who started conservation practices before 2001 would not be rewarded.

But, according to American Farmland Trust, the bill was changed to support conservation by other farmers as well.

"American Farmland Trust has learned of an eleventh-hour agreement to the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009," the group said late Friday. An additional $1 billion was secured for agriculture producers who engage in conservation and stewardship practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions but do not qualify under the offset section of the climate change bill; or who were pioneering producers who began to reduce emissions or sequester carbon with projects prior to 2001.

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