By Miriam Raftery
June 27, 2009 (Washington D.C.) – By a scant seven votes (219-212), the U.S. House of Representatives last night passed the landmark American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill has been hailed by the Environmental Defense Action Fund as “the most important environmental and energy legislation in our nation’s history.”
Supporters say the bill will create millions of “green jobs” while shifting the nation to reliance on clean, renewable energy resources to curb the potentially devastating impacts of global warming by reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil. Opponents argued the bill would increase energy costs and bureaucracy. San Diego Congressional Democrats Bob Filner and Susan Davis voted for the measure, while Republicans Brian Bilbray, Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa voted no. Several area members offered comments on their votes. The Senate will now consider climate change legislation before a final measure goes to President Obama for signature.
“This bill is a crucial part of our economic recovery,” Filner stated in a press release. “It will create millions of new American jobs and entire new industries. It is critical to our national security , helping reduce foreign oil imports by more than 5 million barrels a day—the amount we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela—and it reduces the carbon pollution that cause global warming.” Passage of the bill comes on the heels of a new federal report which found the San Diego region to be among the most severely impacted by global climate change. That report warned of dire consequences if major action is not taken swiftly, as ECM reported last week: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/?q=node/1459.
Specifically, the new bill would require the U.S. to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 and approximately 80% by mid-century. It imposes limits on heat-trapping pollutants from electric utilities, oil refineries, factories and other major sources while promoting American clean energy forms including wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. It also supports private investment in more efficient vehicle technology, nuclear and cleaner coal technology .
Rep. Bilbray posted a statement on his website offering this explanation for his opposition. “As someone who has spent a decade regulating air pollution while serving on the California Air Resources Board and the County of San Diego Air Pollution Control District, I looked at this bill and came to the conclusion that the greatest threat to the environment was all the smoke from the backroom deals that have been made to put this Cap and Trade Climate bill together. This is a bill that attempts to bring about clean coal... but the concept of clean coal is just as logical as the concept of safe cigarettes." He likened the measure to a "mistake" made by Congress 20 years ago promoting ethanol as a fuel, adding, "Congress could have had the courage to admit that mistake through this bill, but it is clear that the leadership in today's House of Representatives lacks that courage."
Rep. Issa explained his opposition as follows. "By establishing a tax on the use of energy, this bill will send American jobs to China and raise the price of gasoline and electricity for American families,” he said, adding, “This recession is an especially terrible time to raise the cost of energy when there are affordable solutions such as increasing the use of nuclear power to lower greenhouse gas emissions."
As of press deadline, Representatives Hunter and Davis have not issued statements regarding their votes on the bill, which also creates an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to earn carbon offsets for planting trees, preserving forests, practicing sustainable farming methods, and other stewardship activities. Polluters would be issued allowances that could be given away, though 15% would be auctioned with proceeds used to offset higher energy costs for low-income people. That’s a major compromise from the Obama administration’s original proposal to sell most pollution permits and raise $600 billion to fund a middle class tax cut. The bill also had concessions for interests ranging from farmers to hydroelectric and nuclear power industries.
Supporters and opponents agree that the bill will increase energy costs for most consumers, but disagree on how much. GOP members in Congress argued that the bill could increase energy costs by up to $770 per household per year. However, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would actually save low-income households $40 a year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, other households would have increased energy costs of $111 a year, or about the cost of a postage stamp a day.
“We can’t afford not to act,” said Filner. “After years of energy costs going up, stagnant job creation, increasing dependence on foreign oil, and carbon pollution going unchecked for far too long, the American Clean Energy and Security Act takes America in a bold new direction, toward a lasting prosperity.” He likened the bill to the bipartisan Clean Air Act passed in the 1990s, which dramatically reduced acid rainfall, led to a 10% reduction in electricity rates and 16 million jobs, Filner recalled. “This bill sets out to tackle the most pressing global challenge we face—in a way that creates jobs and grows the economy, makes us more energy independent, and protects consumers and taxpayers in the process,” Filner concluded. “We’ve done this successfully on a smaller scale, so we know how to make it work.”