The American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) would establish an economy-wide cap-and-trade system, reduce greenhouse gas emissions 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 (with earlier milestones of 17 percent by 2020 and 42 percent by 2030), and lay the foundation for the United States to create a new clean energy economy that would create millions of green jobs for American workers.
The legislation encourages investment in energy efficiency, creates several new energy-efficiency policies, and establishes an Efficiency and Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), which would require public utilities to meet customer needs at least partly through renewable resources and energy efficiency programs. The bill is designed to reduce waste and save billions of dollars in energy costs for consumers and businesses by increasing energy efficiency across the economy in everything from household appliances to transportation.
The bill also includes provisions to reduce energy use in buildings—the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States—such as creating a building energy performance labeling program, and directing the Department of Energy to help independent code-setting organizations develop better energy codes and to assist state and local governments with code enforcement.
As the bill was debated throughout the week, Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee offered dozens of amendments designed to weaken or kill the legislation, but Democrats on the committee had enough votes to reject the amendments and to strip out or modify a few other damaging provisions.
While many environmentalists are praising the legislation and its authors—U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee, and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—many others say the bill falls short of what is needed to set the United States on course toward a clean-energy future and to prevent the catastrophic effects of global warming. Among other things, critics of the legislation argue that the bill offers too many concessions to the oil and coal industries and shifts too many of the costs of cleaner energy from polluters to taxpayers and consumers.
As an example of how the bill has divided the environmental community, former Vice President Al Gore and climate scientist James Hansen, both strong advocates of federal legislation to address clean energy and climate change, have come down on opposite sides in respect to the Waxman-Markey bill. Gore calls the legislation “a good starting point,” and has been drumming up grassroots support for the bill. Hansen says the revised bill “is too watered down to qualify as a positive step for avoiding catastrophic climate disruption.”
The full House of Representatives is expected to take up the bill sometime before the August recess, possibly before the July 4 recess, but the legislation has a long way to go before there is a final House vote on the measure.
At least six other House committees have jurisdiction over various portions of the bill, including the powerful Ways and Means Committee, whose chairman, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), says he wants to work on health care before turning his committee’s attention to the climate bill. At least two members of the Ways and Means Committee—Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who introduced a cap-and-dividend bill, and John Larson (D-Conn.), who has proposed a carbon-tax bill—have made it clear that they want to help shape the final legislation.
Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is demanding veto power over certain provisions of the bill concerning ethanol and has threatened to derail the legislation if he doesn’t get it, by instructing the 26 Democrats on his committee to vote against the bill on the floor. The bill needs 218 votes to pass. While Democrats hold 254 seats in the House, several Democrats and most Republicans are already likely to vote against the bill. Meanwhile, members who voted for the bill in committee may try to lower its emissions goals or weaken the legislation in other ways before it comes a vote on the floor. If they fail, they could vote against the bill.
Over the next several weeks, supporters of the bill will be working to strengthen the legislation while its critics and opponents will be working to weaken or defeat it. However the process unfolds, the version of the bill that finally comes to a vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives is almost sure to be quite different than the one passed by the committee this week.