Comprehensive Energy & Climate Bill Passes the House

The House of Representatives passed a sweeping climate and energy bill last Friday, the first time a U.S. chamber of Congress has passed a bill that sets mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The American Clean Energy & Security Act passed the House with a vote of 219-212; 211 Democrats and 8 Republicans supported the bill. In his weekly address a day after the vote, President Obama said the legislation was “historic” and would “open the door to a clean energy economy and a better future for America.”

The majority of environmental groups hailed the legislation as an important step forward in addressing climate change and shifting the country to a clean energy economy, while some voiced strong concerns about the deficiencies of the bill. Many urged strengthening the bill as it moves through the legislative process. Read USCAN member reactions.

Sponsors of the bill resolved major sticking points on agricultural issues with Midwestern members to secure their support just a couple of days before it went to the floor. Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) reached agreement with Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) to have the Agriculture Department – rather than the EPA – manage an offset program that pays farmers and other landowners to implement environmentally friendly practices. They also consented to a multi-year moratorium on EPA regulations that calculate “indirect” greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes relating to biofuels, such as the clearing of rainforests in other countries to grow corps for food so more land in the United States could be used to make fuel feedstocks. The final bill also included a provision that would punish countries with trade sanctions if they did not accept greenhouse gas emissions limits, a stipulation that President Obama said that he was unhappy with on Sunday.

Last week, the Obama administration deployed key Cabinet officials and staff across the country to lobby lawmakers still on the fence. In a public address on Thursday, President Obama urged the House to pass the bill, saying it would create millions of new jobs and “finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy.”  The European Union also announced its support of the bill.  “We want the U.S. to go as far and as fast as they can on climate change,” said EU Commission President Jose Manual Barroso.  “We want Waxman-Markey to succeed.”

Public support of climate and energy legislation remained strong leading up to the House vote, according to a poll in earlier this month. A survey by Democratic firm Mellman Group and the Republican group Public Opinion Strategies found that 78 percent of voters want the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with 72 percent supporting the core principles of energy legislation that reduces emissions and bolsters renewable energy. The pollsters indicated that critics’ arguments against the legislation have not resonated with the public. “At present, attacks alleging higher taxes and lost jobs do not diminish support for the plan because voters continue to believe that efforts to reduce global warming will create rather than eliminate new American jobs,” their memo stated.

This weekend, President Obama called for the Senate to get to work on their version of the bill, emphasizing the economic incentives and national security benefits the measure would usher in. David Axelrod, Obama’s top political advisor, said the Senate did not have the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster yet, but said the vote wouldn’t come until the fall, allowing enough time to rally support. Senate action on the climate bill is expected in early July as six committees begin preparing their own sections of legislation to match up with the House bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has set a September 18 deadline for the committees to complete their work.

— Keith Schneider

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