Climate Bill Clears House Committee, Vote in August

by | May 22, 2009

capitol-image2The House has moved the Markey-Waxman climate legislation out of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is debating its own energy package, which has ramifications on the climate.

The House committee approved the measure 33-25. Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs, Calif., was the only Republican to support the bill.

Now that the House bill has cleared committee, it sets the stage for a broad national debate about the role of government in addressing climate change, as well as the future of cap-and-trade for carbon emissions, a renewable energy standard and more.

Using 2005 emissions levels as a baseline, the House bill targets national emissions reductions of 20 percent by 2020, 42 percent  by 2030, and  83 percent by 2050, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The bill would require the nation’s utilities to generate 20 percent of their power by 2020 from a combination of renewable sources and efficiency measures. That pales in comparison to what is mandated in California, where by 2020, California utilities must generate 33 percent of their electricity from renewables.

Climate legislation still faces a long road. House leaders say they may bring the bill up for vote in August. If the House approves it this year, Senate Democrats say they may take it up for consideration in 2009. Some have pointed out that President Obama may be more willing to use his political goodwill on passing health care reform, as opposed to climate legislation that is opposed by much of American big business. If so, it could be 2010 before climate legislation actually reaches the President’s desk.

The legislation was received warmly by some groups, with trepidation by others.

“With this bill, the committee has seized a triple opportunity: to combat climate change, to enhance our nation’s security, and to unleash American ingenuity for building the economy of tomorrow. ACESA will spur new markets for clean energy and technology and provides a clear and ambitious goal to reduce U.S. emissions 80 percent by 2050,” said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute.

However, Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, was critical of the bill’s prospects for creating green-sector jobs. “We hope that the legislation will be strengthened to seize clean energy development and job creation opportunities as the legislative process continues,” he said.

A coalition including Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen, Citizen Power, the Center for Biological Diversity,  TURN-The Utility Reform Network, Sustainable Energy & Economy Network and other groups was unhappy with compromises in the bill.

“While a week of debate failed to adequately strengthen protections for consumers, communities, and the climate in this bill, it erased all doubt of who will benefit most from it: Big Business. Despite the best efforts of Chairman Waxman, the decision-making process was co-opted by oil and coal lobbyists determined to sustain our addiction to dirty fossil fuels, even as the country stands ready to rebuild our economy and clean up the environment with real clean energy,” the groups said in a joint statement.

The groups say the emissions targets are “far weaker” than what scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.

U.S. efforts on climate change play an important role in global climate talks this December in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Particularly key is getting the U.S. and China to agree on dialogue. To that end, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, both Democrats, are visiting China over Memorial Day weekend to engage leaders on climate strategies.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted down a Republican amendment that would have jettisoned a renewable electricity standard from the committee’s forthcoming energy package, Reuters reports.

The committee’s proposed bill would require power plants to generate 3 percent of their output from renewables between 2011 and 2013, with targets rising to 15 percent between 2021 and 2039.

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