U.S. House Narrowly Passes Climate Legislation

U.S. House Narrowly Passes Climate Legislation

June 26, 2009 18:00

Climate legislation has a long way to go before becoming federal law, but Congress took a major step in enacting the nation’s first global warming bill now that the House of Representatives narrowly passed the measure on a 219-212 vote on Friday.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act cleared the House and the initiative is now in the hands of the Senate.

Nicknamed the “Waxman-Markey” bill named after its sponsors, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Edward J. Markey, Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, House Democratic supporters argue that the bill will revitalize the economy by creating millions of new jobs, improve national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions claimed to cause global warming.

“Today we have taken decisive and historic action to promote America’s energy security and to create millions of clean energy jobs that will drive our economic recovery and long-term growth,” said Waxman. “After more than three decades of being held hostage to the influence of foreign energy suppliers, this legislation at long last begins to break our addiction to imported foreign oil and put us on a path to true energy security.”

“Today the House has passed the most important energy and environment bill in our nation’s history,” said Markey. “Scientists say that global warming is a dangerous man-made problem. Today we are saying clean energy will be the American-made solution. This legislation will create jobs by the millions, save money by the billions and unleash investment in clean energy by the trillions.”

Passage of the legislation by the House became possible this week after Congressional negotiators agreed to change certain provisions to meet the demands of Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson, who pressed for the Agriculture Department, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency, to regulate farm and forestry projects intended to offset carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources.

Here’s a summary of the key provisions of the legislation:

  • Establishes a national renewable portfolio standard, requiring electric utilities to meet 20% of their electricity demand through renewable energy sources and energy efficiency by 2020.
  • Invests $190 billion in new clean energy technologies, energy efficiency and renewable energy ($90 billion in new investments by 2025), carbon capture and sequestration ($60 billion), electric and other advanced technology vehicles ($20 billion), and basic scientific research and development ($20 billion).
  • Mandates new energy-saving standards for buildings, appliances, and industry.
  • Reduces carbon emissions from major U.S. sources by 17% by 2020 and over 80% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. Also makes investments in preventing tropical deforestation and other measures to achieve significant additional reductions in carbon emissions.
  • Protects consumers from energy price increases.

For business and industry, enactment of the legislation in the House is a positive step toward helping to remove regulatory uncertainty and establishing a unified national framework that would likely supersede a patchwork of state and regional initiatives to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  In addition, the national renewable portfolio standard offers the renewable energy industry and consumers a consistent national approach to promote clean energy investments.

For now, industrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions will have to wait and see what the Senate does with the legislation and how the conference committee eventually reconciles the two approaches.

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The business case for the development of renewable energy projects, from biodiesel and ethanol to wind, solar, and distributed generation, is more compelling than ever as tax and regulatory incentives combine to attract investments. Emerging issues in environmental law and increasingly recognized principles of corporate social responsibility are encouraging public companies to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions, install clean energy alternatives, and invest overseas in projects under the Kyoto Protocol to respond to climate change concerns.

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