Barack Obama’s US climate change bill passes key Congress vote

27.6.2009   (Guardian)

by Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent


America has taken historic action against climate change, with the US Congress voting to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming.

The house of representatives has voted 219 to 212 to bind the US to cutting carbon emissions by 17% from 2005 levels in 2020 and
83% in 2050.      It will also set up a national cap and trade system.

Democrats claimed the bill – the first such measure ever to win a vote in Congress
– as an important victory.

“The house has passed the most important energy and environment bill in our nation’s
history,” said Ed Markey, one of the bill’s authors.   “Scientists say global warming
is a dangerous man-made problem. Today we are saying clean energy will be the
American-made solution.”

Even the bill’s most implacable opponents acknowledged its importance in transforming
US energy use.   “This could be the defining bill of this Congress,” said Republican
house leader John Boehner.

The bill must still clear the Senate – where it faces even more daunting odds
– before it can be signed into law.     But the vote was indisputably an important
victory for
Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.     For Obama, it was a first step towards redemption
of one of his signature campaign promises, within six months of coming to the
White House.

The vote also delivers an important boost to the prospects of reaching an agreement
for international action on climate change at Copenhagen this year.

“I think it will have a very positive impact on the Copenhagen process because
the international negotiations have largely been stymied by countries waiting
to see what the US will do,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, the director of international
climate policy for the Environmental Defence Fund.     “Passage of the house bill
is just one step in that process, but it is such a crucial step and a high hurdle.”

In addition to establishing a cap and trade system that is the heart of the 1,200-page bill, the measures approved by the house
would require power companies to produce 15% of their electricity from wind and
solar energy.

But the bill’s passage was hard-won.    By the time of the vote, the Democratic
leadership had made several major concessions to win support from party refuseniks, weakening the bill.   Several environmental
organisations admitted they were disappointed.   Greenpeace went so far as to call on Congress to reject it.

Even after giving ground on the bill, the White House and Democrats were forced
to go to extraordinary lengths to muster enough support for passage.     Obama put
his personal prestige on the line – making three appeals in the space of 48 hours
this week for Congress to deliver the bill.

The White House also oversaw a furious public relations effort to sell the sweeping
package of energy reforms as a jobs creation programme.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker, and her lieutenants lobbied till the last
minute to round up final stragglers, but heroic measures were needed.     Patrick
Kennedy of Massachusetts, who checked in to a rehab clinic two weeks ago, returned
to Congress; so did John Lewis of Georgia despite having surgery only days ago.  
Forty-four Democrats – mostly from conservative and rural areas – voted against
the measure.     However, eight Republicans voted for the bill, breaking their party’s
blanket opposition to action on climate change, and allowing Obama to claim a
share of bipartisan support for his energy reforms.

see also

Comments by Greenpeace in the USA about the ACES (American Clean Energy and Security)


Here’s what’s WRONG with the legislation:

  • The Nobel-prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that to
    avoid the worst climate impacts such as intense droughts, super charged hurricanes
    and increased heat waves, the U.S. and other industrialized countries must cut
    their emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020.   This bill, as it’s currently written, only calls for a 4% reduction by 2020.     And there’s very little chance those targets will be improved.

  • These weak targets are made even worse by 2 billion tons per year of allowable offsets. Offsets allow polluters to put off for more than a decade real cuts in their
    emissions The offsets are so high that they will exceed the actual pollution reductions
    required until at least 2026 — that’s time we don’t have!

  • Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of global warming pollution
    in the U.S.     In order to tackle climate change, we need to begin phasing out
    coal immediately.   But instead of phasing-out coal plants, ACES will actually
    encourage the growth of a new generation of coal-fired plants!     To add insult
    to injury, tens of billions of taxpayer dollars would be spent on the myth of
    carbon capture and sequestration — an untested and unproven technology that is
    decades away from full-scale deployment even by the most optimistic estimates.

Worst of all, ACES will actually remove the President’s existing authority to
regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act—an authority that was recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. Now that the
House has proven that it won’t step up and stop global warming, President Obama’s
power to regulate greenhouse gases is our greatest hope.



see also


Economist     27.6.2009

America’s climate-change bill is a bundle of compromises

THE headline is a big one: for the first time, America’s House of Representatives
agreed, by 219 votes to 212, on Friday June 25th to cap emissions of carbon dioxide,
the main greenhouse gas.

The bill envisions modest reductions of 17% from 2005 levels by 2020, but the cuts get more swingeing over time (under the assumption that technology
to mitigate emissions will improve).   By 2050 the cuts should hit 83%.

But environmental campaigners have gritted their teeth as the bill has passed
through the legislative process.   Drafted by Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, with support from the Obama administration, the bill originally envisioned
a cap-and-trade system whereby credits conferring the right to emit greenhouse
gases would be sold to the highest bidders.   The revenue from such an auction
would be used to offset increasing energy bills.

But to the ire of the green faithful, the bill will now give away 85% of the permits to emit carbon, while auctioning off the rest.     Even in that form, though,
the bill looked like it might generate opposition from fiscally conservative Democrats
or those that represented states with lots of farmers.  The support of those Democrats
would be needed to get the legislation past near-unanimous Republican opposition.

To mollify the farmers, Mr Waxman had to agree that "indirect land-use changes"
would not affect how American farmers producing crops to make ethanol would be
considered under the bill. Farmers had howled that, by the original proposals,
planting more crops to produce ethanol would mean less land devoted to food crops.
 This would clearly cause food prices to rise.   Farmers in (say) Brazil might
then cut down Amazon rainforest to make up the shortfall in America.   That chopped-down
Amazon would have counted against the Iowan corn farmer when carbon credits were
doled out.    Mr Waxman agreed to suspend the provision for five years, so the
National Academy of Sciences could further study the subject.

The next big trade-off also came late in the day at the insistence of the farmers.  
The Department of Agriculture, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency,
will determine what counts as a carbon "offset".

This means that farmers who prevent carbon emissions by, for example, planting
trees or reducing tillage, would get carbon credits. The EPA is reckoned to be
a tough regulator that would make sure farmers did not get credits for doing things
that they would do anyway.  The Department of Agriculture is expected to be more
friendly to farmers.

Many of the mainstream environmental groups-the Natural Resources Defence Council,
the Environmental Defence Fund, the Sierra Club and others-have said that the
bill is flawed but far better than nothing.
  More than that, they claim that once in place it can be tightened over time.

But the bill must pass the Senate where farm states have even more clout than
in the House (since each state, no matter how sparsely populated, gets two senators).  
 It must go through another clutch of committees, each of which is susceptible
to lobbying by special interests with long experience of getting their way.   The
energy committee, for example, has already passed a bill on renewables that has
disappointed greens. The Senate’s majority leader, Harry Reid, wants a vote on
the package by mid-September.

With just a few months to go before global talks in Copenhagen on a successor
to the Kyoto protocol other big countries are showing their hands on climate change.     Russia and Japan have announced targets that are well shy of the goals set by
European countries
, currently leading the world with their green ambitions.   China and India are refusing to countenance any hard ceilings on their own emissions.   An American carbon bill is regarded as a necessary step before anything of
substance can be agreed in Copenhagen. But a weak bill might mean that the impetus
for serious discussions is lacking.