Majority Democrats and President Obama have won a major although narrow victory with passage on Friday by the House of Representatives of a major energy and climate change bill. The vote was 219 to 212. If eventually approved by Congress the measure would impose the first government-mandated limits on greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming, and help accelerate effort to reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and foreign oil imports.
With its cap and trade system of controlling pollution by providing industries economic incentives for limiting emissions, the bill is a high priority for the president, and provoked strong feelings on both sides of the political aisle.
It would require reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels over the next 10 years, with a further goal of 83 percent by 2050.
Scientists have urged a more rapid reduction in emissions, warning that carbon emissions could increase by as much as 40 percent by 2030. Under cap and trade the government would set emission limits and distribute allowances that would be bought and sold. Companies needing to increase emission levels would purchase credits from those with lower emissions.
President Obama, and Democrats portrayed the bill as a crucial first step toward combating global warming and putting the country on the road to cleaner energy.
The president says the legislation would be an economic stimulant, helping to create more jobs, and making the U.S. more competitive with other nations in developing alternative energy solutions. "I have often talked about the need to build a new foundation for economic growth so that we don't return to the endless cycle of bubble and bust that has led us into this deep recession. Clean energy and the jobs that it creates will be absolutely critical to this new foundation."
President Obama says the measure would not increase the U.S. budget deficit, and would protect consumers from sharp costs of transitioning to a clean energy economy.
Most Republicans, especially those from agricultural states, characterized it as a huge tax increase that will burden industries, and increase utility and transportation costs.
"This bill will tax you. This bill will destroy the livelihood of those who live and work in rural America," said Republican Frank Lucas of Oklahoma.
Democrat Henry Waxman, who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, characterized the bill as a matter of national security. "There is a national security imperative to act. This legislation at long last begins to break our addiction to imported foreign oil and put us on a path to true energy security," he said.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated a $175 annual cost by the year 2020 for the typical household from the legislation, while the Environmental Protection Agency estimated $80 to $110 a year.
Republicans pointed to other assessments showing significantly higher estimates, saying families could face several thousand dollars annually for energy and goods.
Republicans, such as Representative Marsha Blackburn, also asserted that the measure will lead to more U.S. manufacturing jobs going overseas where environmental standards are less rigorous. "The impacts of this bill will shut small businesses. It will close family farms, it will shutter manufacturing plants and those jobs will end up in China and India," he said.
Democrat John Larson responded on the subject. "Yes, the Chinese and Indian nations are out there competing. We want to compete against them, because we have better technology. We just have to make the [energy] investment here, and not in Saudi Arabia, and Libya, and Venezuela and Russia," he said.
To obtain the needed 218 vote majority, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama furiously lobbied undecided Democrats and wavering Republicans.
Some Democrats voting against the bill said it didn't go far enough to help to stimulate new alternative energy technologies.
House approval clears the way for debate in the U.S. Senate, where the legislation could face a tough battle.
Approval by Congress would give President Obama a major victory in hand before the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, and provide more flexibility in climate talks with China and other developing countries seeking major emission reductions from industrialized nations.
At a news conference with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama said the climate change legislation would establish a framework for the U.S. to begin leading global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, while working with emerging economies that are also contributing to global warming.
Chancellor Merkel said the both countries are committed to climate change as much more than just numbers and targets but as a commitment to ensuring energy security and a responsibility to countries that will be most affected by climate change.