1,000-Page Bill Attracts Lobbyists To Energy Plan

The climate and energy bill is the biggest piece of legislation ever aimed at curbing global warming. It would remake the energy economy — altering everything from the light bulbs people use to the kind of electricity utilities generate. The bill making its way through committee hearings is about 1,000 pages.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

This is the summer when President Obama and much of Congress want to alter almost every part of our economy. The president is pushing health care changes of course, and that's not the only huge item. A Democratic energy plan would affect everything from the light bulbs you buy to the source of the electricity that illuminates them. It would affect the kind of car you drive, and the way your employer does business. All this summer, we'll be reporting on different parts of the plan before Congress.

And this morning NPR's Christopher Joyce is here to tell us what's at stake. Hi Chris.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Okay, see, if we got this bill - this energy bill is going to alter the whole economy, there must be a lot of lobbying over the details.

JOYCE: Very intense. I mean, I don't know if I've ever seen so many lobbyists from the energy industry on the hill at one time. And it's not just the energy industry, because this affects everything - the factory, cement, paper companies, and of course huge contingent of environmentalists. And there is so much at stake here that everybody wants to get into the action.

INSKEEP: So they're arguing over every line of a bill that's of thousand pages. I print out the table of contents here. The table of contents...

JOYCE: That probably runs to 50 pages, right there.

INSKEEP: It's more than seven pages of contents.

JOYCE: It's a very heavy bill.

INSKEEP: And of course, it's changing as we go. But what's the central goal that lawmakers are aiming for?

JOYCE: Well, simply put, it's to curb global warming by producing greenhouse gasses that cause global warming, and to do that, you change the entire way we get energy, gradually, away from fossil fuels - coal and oil and natural gas that create greenhouse gases - and toward renewable energy. And you do it with this thing called cap-and-trade, which is you put a cap on the greenhouse gases, you give people permits to admit them, that generally ratchet down, and then if you have extra permits you can trade them, and if you need one, you can buy one.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about some ways that concept is changing in the hands of lobbyists as they argue with, work with lawmakers here. The idea was to make companies buy a permit to pollute, which gives them an incentive to pollute less. How's that changing?

JOYCE: Well, initially it was, they will have to buy all of them and now they are only going to have to buy 15 percent of them - at least in the beginning -and they're going to get 85 percent free. And that's got environmentalists very upset, and others who think that that's just too much of a giveaway at the beginning. And there is also the allocation of these. I mean, when you give away 85 percent of them, who gets them? As it turns out, the utility industry is going to get 35 percent of them - they want more. The refineries are going to get a tiny bit of them. They want more.

INSKEEP: Oil refineries.

JOYCE: Oil refineries. So everybody wants as many as they can get and there's a lot of fighting going on about that.

INSKEEP: Okay, so environmentalists are already unhappy that they think they've given away too much here. Let's talk about another change. The plan was to force utilities to get a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar. How is that changing?

JOYCE: That number's come down. Initially it was going to be 25 percent, then it was 20 and then it was 15. But the people who want to see the economy move fast toward renewable energy say that this is just simply not enough to push change.

INSKEEP: So environmentalists are not happy with the way that this bill is evolving. What about some of the industries that are pushing for changes that say changes are needed, like the coal and oil industries. Are they happy?

JOYCE: Well, they see the writing on the wall. The coal industry, oil industry know now that they can't fight this, that there is going to be a law. And I think what they are basically saying is, give us something that's not going to put us out of business, give us something where there's wiggle room and make it a slow burn, so that we can have time to develop new technologies. If you're cynic, you could also say what they are doing is stalling. That's the friction that's going on right now - how much leeway to give companies to adopt, and they want more time and environmentalists tend to want less.

INSKEEP: I can already hear the argument of defenders of this bill. They don't want to damage the economy. They also want to pass a bill and do what's practical and make sure they can get past that immense lobbying effort you're talking about. But are we reaching a point where environmentalists might say look, this bill does nothing, we'll walk away from it.

JOYCE: That's a possibility. That's happened in the past. And so it's a matter of whether the perfect is going to be the enemy of the good, in this, and whether there is going to be something that both sides can agree on.

INSKEEP: One of the things I want to ask about, Chris Joyce, as we move forward here. Isn't this bill, in someway, whatever they call it, however the structure it, going to need to force us - as individuals, as companies, as a country - to just pay more for energy so that we're forced to use it more efficiently?

JOYCE: People don't like to admit that, but frankly people want their cake and eat it too, and the fact is they can't.

INSKEEP: NPR's Christopher Joyce is one of our correspondents who will be covering the lobbying over the energy bill in the next few months. Chris, thanks very much.

JOYCE: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: And we'll be listening for you again.

Even before the bill, the clean energy industry seems to be growing. U.S. clean energy jobs grew more than nine percent we're told between 1998 and 2007. That's compared to less than four percent for traditional jobs, according to the Pew Charitable Trust. They did a study. Pew defined clean energy jobs as including everything from engineers to plumbers to construction workers, marketing consultants, teachers. That's clean energy. The average annual income for these jobs ranged from $21,000 to more than $100,000.

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