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Peterson works out climate change bill deal that may pass

ST. PAUL - A deal brokered by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson appears to have given a global warming bill a fighting chance to pass the House today.

The western Minnesota Democrat negotiated for three weeks with House leaders who support legislation to slow global warming, saying he and other rural lawmakers could not back the bill as written because it penalized farmers.

"We have, by and large, been successful," he declared Thursday.

An amendment he offered removes or eases several provisions that could hurt ethanol production, he said. "They were charging us for cutting down the rain forest in Brazil."

The bill likely will receive a vote by the full House today. It would be an important victory for President Barack Obama to carry with him to an international summit early next month.

Obama worked hard Thursday to get enough votes to pass the bill, including calling wavering Democrats. By late afternoon, House leaders said they had enough votes.

But Peterson said there still could be problems, especially if representatives tamper with his amendment.

"If my amendment does not pass, this bill will not pass," he said.

Democratic House leaders Thursday praised Peterson for working out the deal.

Peterson's amendment shifts enforcement of some climate-change regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a much more farmer-friendly organization. It also removes penalties the original bill placed on farmers over a dramatic increase in the use of land for raising corn to be made into ethanol fuel.

The measure requires the United States to cut its production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020.

It would establish a complicated system regulating how much greenhouse gas businesses can emit, a plan known as cap-and-trade. If a business does not reach that cap, it could trade rights to pollute to a business that emits more than is allowed.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also opposes it.

In a letter to the Minnesota congressional delegation, he said the bill would hurt the country's economy and "destroy more than 1 million jobs." It also would raise electrical rates 90 percent, he said.

One of Peterson's usual allies, Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, will vote against the bill. Peterson said he understands, because coal-fired power plants and oil drilling are important in North Dakota; most congressmen in fossil-fuel production areas say the bill hurts those activities because they emit a lot of carbon and would force up oil and coal prices.

Pomeroy and other Democrats opposed to the bill faced heavy lobbying.

By early Thursday evening, Obama's chief of staff and two Cabinet members had called the North Dakota congressman and the White House and Pomeroy's staff set up time slots where Obama himself could call later.

"Just that they are calling tells me they don't have the votes," Pomeroy said, calling the bill "a major initiative."

Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat who represents southern Minnesota, will support the measure.

"Climate change is a real problem and is affecting our planet in many ways..." Walz said. "This bill will increase the certainty and security of our national energy supply."

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would cost $175 annually per household. Peterson, however, said that probably is too high.

The bill includes a provision that offsets that cost for people who earn less than $40,000 a year.

The Senate, with more of a rural slant than the House, is less likely to pass a bill that would hurt agriculture, Peterson said.

Still, Peterson said, in the months before Congress could pass the measure it could change.

"I still have concerns with the bill, but this is not becoming law," Peterson said of provisions he does not like. "This is the first step in the process."

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.