WASHINGTON - Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, urged on by President Barack Obama, announced progress on Tuesday toward quick passage of legislation to fight global warming by reducing industrial emissions of carbon dioxide.
At a midday White House press conference, Obama said the historic climate change bill moving through the House would transform the way we produce and use energy in America.
With incentives to encourage utilities, manufacturers and other companies to switch from higher-polluting oil and coal to cleaner energy alternatives, Obama said the legislation would spark a transformation that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and confront the carbon pollution that threatens our planet.
Hours after Obama's remarks, House Democrats announced they had reached a deal on difficult agriculture issues in the legislation, clearing the way for a vote and probable passage in the chamber this week.
Representative Henry Waxman, a main proponent of the climate change bill in the House, told reporters that farmers won several of the demands they had been holding out for in exchange for supporting the climate bill.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was cautiously optimistic, telling reporters, it is quite possible and maybe even probable the bill will be debated on Friday and pass.
With House passage, the climate change debate would shift to the Senate, which has not yet crafted its own bill and where passage is more complicated than in the House because Republicans could use delaying tactics.
As Obama was leading the charge for climate change legislation cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050 (from 2005 levels), his administration acted on another clean energy front.
HELP FOR AUTOMAKERS
Nearly $8 billion in Energy Department loans were announced to help automakers retool plants so they can build more fuel efficient vehicles, including electric cars and autos with improved gasoline engines.
In pushing companies to reduce their carbon emissions, the climate change bill would encourage the use of alternative energy such as solar and wind, while promoting technologies to capture and store emissions from coal-burning plants.
Supporting that effort, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the government had awarded its first leases for offshore wind development off the Atlantic Ocean coasts of New Jersey and Delaware.
While large U.S. companies such as Duke Energy, Dow and Alcoa, have embraced the broad goals of the House climate bill, other industries criticized it.
The American Petroleum Institute, representing major U.S. oil companies, called the House legislation fundamentally flawed and said it would cost Americans billions of dollars in higher costs, kill jobs and will not deliver the environmental benefits promised.
This week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the House Democrats' climate bill could cost households an average $175 a year in added costs, while the poor would enjoy a $40 annual benefit from rebates and other breaks. Republicans had warned of $3,100 in price increases yearly and severe job losses.
Obama's Environmental Protection Agency estimated an average household cost per year of $80-$111, or 22 cents to 30 cents a day.
Meanwhile, Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, an outspoken critic of the Democratic climate change bill, asked the Justice Department to investigate whether General Motors and Chrysler can legally lobby in favor of global warming legislation because of the government bailouts of those firms.
GM is a member of the United States Climate Action Partnership, which has advocated climate legislation along the lines of the House bill.
Farm-state lawmakers already have succeeded in adding help for rural electricity companies and talks reportedly were continuing on farmer land-use issues.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Republican leader John Boehner, said that even with the new concessions to rural areas, the core of this legislation remains the same: a job-killing tax increase that will hit every single American, especially middle class families in the heartland of America.
(Additional reporting by Charles Abbott, Tom Doggett, Ayesha Rascoe, Kevin Krolicki, John Crawley and Jon Hurdle)