In Historic vote House approves climate change bill; Debate moves to the Senate

In a close vote — 219 to 212 — the House of Representatives approved the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), also known as the Waxman – Markey bill. This is a historic vote that brings the U.S. a step closer to having a comprehensive climate change law, and if enacted, a law that could impact every corner of the economy.

At the heart of the bill, and the source of much contention, is a cap – and – trade provision that seeks to cap CO2 emissions by forcing energy-dependent industries to pay for the right to emit CO2 and other green house gases. The bill targets overall CO2 emissions cuts of 17 percent by 2020 and by 83 percent by mid-century.

The legislation provides billions of dollars to support construction of solar and wind power plants. It also supports energy efficiency measures and smart grid technology.

When Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and co-sponsor Edward Markey (D-Mass) ACES in the spring, they laid out an ambitious time line and vowed to have a vote by the full house by the summer.

They did it, but getting there took a lot of horse-trading. One of the biggest compromises was the near total elimination of an administration plan to sell pollution permits as part of the cap-and trade program. The sale could have raised about $640 billion. Instead, about 85 percent of the permits are to be given away to carbon-dependent industries.

Also, just this week, in a bid to secure crucial votes from rural states, the bill’s sponsors agreed to hand over the administration of a key carbon offset program to the Department of Agriculture, bypassing the Environmental Protection Agency, which is better qualified to oversee such a program.

Now the debate moves to the Senate where a parallel energy bill, sponsored by Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), requiring electric utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021, was approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The bill would also give the Federal government authority to override state regulators to expanding electricity transmission lines.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was “hopeful that the Senate would be able to debate and pass bipartisan and comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this fall.”

Given the close vote in the House, the bill’s fate in the Senate remains uncertain.

President Obama called the House vote a “historic action” and told reporters he is confident the Senate also will act on the climate issue.

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