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Energy Bill Scrapes by House -- Will it Survive the Senate?

The focus is now on trying to make sure the bill clears the Senate and is not weakened by special interests.
 
 
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This story was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ryan Powers, and Nate Carlile.

Friday was a historic day in Congress, as the House passed the first-ever bill designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. The narrow 219-212 vote was a hard-fought victory, overcoming the regional interests of lawmakers, aggressive lobbying by business groups, and misinformation by right-wing pundits. "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," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA), one of the authors of the landmark American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). The other author of the bill, House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Chair Ed Markey (D-CA), added that the legislation will "create jobs by the millions, save money by the billions and unleash investment in clean energy by the trillions." The bill now moves to the Senate, where the fight for passage will be even tougher. In his weekly address on Saturday, President Obama recognized the challenge and called on senators to not "be prisoners of the past." "Don't believe the misinformation out there that suggests there is somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and economic growth," he urged. "It's just not true."

A FLEXIBLE BILL: ACES "would establish binding greenhouse gas pollution limits, set the first national renewable electricity and efficiency standards for utilities, and improve efficiency standards for buildings and appliances -- creating 1.7 million new jobs and spurring $150 billion in investments." In fact, by 2020, U.S. emissions are required to decline by 17 percent. ACES wasn't the ideal bill for most people. Some business interests were opposed to stringent regulations and many environmentalists preferred the auction of all the pollution allowances. Speaking to reporters over the weekend, Obama explained why this fragile compromise was necessary: "Part of the reason I think that business was supportive, and ultimately we got support from legislators who in the past had been opposed, is because of the flexibility that was built...into this bill." Despite the fear-mongering by many conservatives on ACES, regulating greenhouse gas emissions is widely supported by the American public. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that three-quarters -- including "substantial majority support from Democrats, Republicans and independents" -- support such regulation. Obama has also received high ratings for his handling of the issue, with global warming his second strongest area after international affairs.

NEXT STEPS IN THE SENATE: As Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta has noted, the Senate Energy Committee is off to "an inauspicious beginning by passing an energy bill that would do little to boost investments in renewable electricity." "The bill would allow oil drilling in an area only 45 miles off the Florida Gulf Coast and worsen global warming by lifting the prohibition against the federal government purchase of oil from Canadian tar sands, which produce twice as much greenhouse gas pollution as regular oil," said Podesta. "The Senate bill is weak, toothless, and unacceptable, and it must be improved before it passes." In addition to allowing drilling, environmentalists are upset that the bill has a weaker renewable electricity standard than the one in the House bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is hoping to have the full Senate consider the bill sometime this fall and Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) plans to have a bill on climate strategy ready for consideration by early August. Obama is also urging the Senate to strip out a provision present in the House bill that would "impose a tariff in 2020 on imports from countries without systems for pricing or limiting carbon dioxide emissions."

'TREASON AGAINST THE PLANET': On Friday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) wrote on Twitter, "I hope we can fix cap and trade so it doesn't unfairly punish businesses and families in coal dependent states like Missouri." McCaskill's state gets 85 percent of its electricity from coal and is home to the world's largest coal company, Peabody Energy, which has spent nearly $10 million lobbying against climate legislation since 2008. As The Wonk Room's Brad Johnson notes, "In reality, the cap-and-trade system the House passed fully protects states now dependent on coal, with multi-billion-dollar programs for advanced coal technology." But interest groups have poured millions of dollars into lobbying against this bill. In the first three months of 2009 alone, the oil industry spent $44.5 million on lobbying, and last year spent 73 percent more on lobbying than it did the year before. In March, the top public relations group for the coal industry announced that it was looking to shape public attitudes online, with a $20 million media budget for Internet-based advertising. As Obama told reporters this past weekend, the bill's foes have been seeking to "get political gain by scaring the bejesus out of people." In today's New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman says that in light of the fact that "the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected," global warming deniers and people unwilling to take action are committing "treason against the planet." "The deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it's in their political interest to pretend that there's nothing to worry about," he writes. "If that's not betrayal, I don't know what is."

 
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