House Democrats would seem to have few models to follow in crafting their massive energy and climate change bill, but Rep. Edward Markey, who has played a key role in crafting the legislation, says he's seen its like before.
In a conversation with Atlantic Media Political Director Ronald Brownstein on Tuesday, the Massachusetts Democrat drew parallels between what promises to be a historic energy bill and the revolutionary telecommunications act he spearheaded in 1996.
Markey, who is chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, likened policies designed to foster innovation in the renewable energy industry to measures that spurred the growth of the telecom industry in the mid-'90s, noting that prior to the act, not a single home in the U.S. had broadband Internet access.
"Ten years later, there was a whole new vocabulary in the United States and in the whole world: Google, eBay, YouTube, Amazon, Hulu -- thousands of companies, millions of jobs, none of which existed in February of 1996," Markey said. "I think the same thing is going to happen in this renewable sector."
One of the bill's principal goals is to create a national marketplace for renewable energy by introducing a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, but it also includes fuel economy standards for automakers, funds for research and development, and incentives designed to foster innovation in the new energy industry.
Over the course of their conversation, Markey and Brownstein sought to work through the various provisions -- and implications -- of the 1,201-page bill Markey co-sponsored with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., which the two expect to bring to the House floor on Friday. Markey made his comments at a National Journal Group policy breakfast.
The dense and far-reaching bill has raised fears that it would be too cumbersome to steer through a committee. But momentum has continued to build behind it, thanks in large part to the sizable compromises made by energy companies, labor unions and environmentalists to move the bill forward.
Addressing these concessions, Brownstein asked Markey which sacrifices had been hardest for him personally. "I have not felt from the beginning uncomfortable about any of the decisions we have made that have ensured consumers are protected, that vulnerable industries are protected, because ultimately that's the fairest way in which to construct the legislation," Markey said.
Markey said he pursued a similar strategy in 1996 by working with cable, telephone, satellite and computer companies to ensure due consideration was given to the businesses affected by the legislation.
But the pending energy bill's central mission is far more pressing: warding off global warming.
Brownstein noted that one of the bill's most-criticized provisions is the renewable portfolio standards it sets for utilities, which require energy companies to produce a certain share of their power from alternative sources. The bill's current requirements -- as high as 20 percent and as low as 12 percent, depending on state governors' certifications -- may not be sufficient to drive the development of renewable energy industries or curb global warming, environmentalists worry.
But Markey shrugged off these concerns, pointing out that many environmentalists were thrilled when the House set a 15 percent standard two years ago. (The standards were not included in the Senate's version of the 2007 energy bill and did not make it through the conference committee.)
Over the course of the breakfast, Markey and Brownstein also discussed the effect that passing an energy and climate change bill would have on countries like China and India, and the impact it could have on international climate negotiations like the upcoming talks in Copenhagen.
Markey said the primary stumbling block in the way of delivering an energy bill to President Obama's desk will be dispatching the misrepresentations made about the economic impact of the legislation.
"We have done an excellent job in ensuring that the economic impact is minimal, but that will not stop our opponents from using erroneous information... to create knowingly erroneous premises for congressmen to be making this decision," Markey said. "We will have to work very hard to ensure that it's only the facts they're dealing with."