Friday, June 26, 2009

House passes historic climate legislation

by Joel Wendland

After a contentious debate, during which the main Republican position seemed to be that global warming isn't real and that freedom equals the right to pollute unhindered, the House tonight passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES).

The bill would create a cap and trade system in which polluters will buy pollution credits. The goal is to create an incentive for them to change their ways and find cleaner methods of production. In addition, the bill mandates a gradual increase of electricity production from clean resources, like wind and solar power instead of coal-fired energy plants. The ultimate goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and limit its worst effects.

The funds raised by the cap and trade system will be in the hundreds of billions over the next ten years and will fund investments in clean energy production, and along with it millions of so-called green jobs. Put simply, if a similar bill passes in the Senate and becomes law, we are quite possibly looking at the end of the monopoly Big Oil and Big Coal have on energy production. The transition will be gradual, but it will be ongoing.

Some of the resources will be used to offset higher energy costs for working families.

Barack Obama had originally planned that some of the funds raised would also finance making his working families tax cuts permanent after 2010. It passed as part of the economic recovery act, but they expire after 2010. That tax offset hasn't shown up yet.

ACES has the support of labor and environmental coalitions like the Blue-Green Alliance and the Apollo Alliance. Some on the left in the Democratic Party opposed the bill because it didn't go far enough, and others like Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, wanted stronger guarantees in the bill itself for new investments in revitalizing the manufacturing sector with subsidies that will offset the impacts of the cap and trade system in ACES. A Senate bill, known as IMPACT, introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would take those steps.

The most drama came from Republican Minority Leader John Boehner, a well-known drama queen, who filibustered with an hour-long speech after he realized his side didn't have enough votes to block it. That's what it feels like to be on the wrong side of history, I guess.

Now the fight turns to the Senate. A Democratic majority of 59 or 60 doesn't guarantee easy passage, however. Time to step up the fight.