WASHINGTON, D.C. --- The Democratic-controlled House on June 26 narrowly passed a major energy bill that calls for the U.S. to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and about 80 percent by mid-century, Reuters reported.
In general, Democrats hailed the legislation as a historic step in tackling the climate crisis, while Republicans predicted the bill would damage the economy without resolving the nation's energy problems. Eight Republicans joined 211 Democrats in voting for the bill; 44 Democrats joined 168 Republicans in voting against the bill.
The legislation, called the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, now faces a tougher test in the Senate. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was "hopeful that the Senate will be able to debate and pass bipartisan and comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this fall."
The House bill includes several concessions for the agriculture industry. They include Department of Agriculture oversight of carbon-reduction efforts by farmers, instead of EPA oversight. Also, obstacles to corn-based ethanol, previously proposed by the EPA, would be postponed by at least five years. Those obstacles were tied to EPA projections linking biofuels to indirect land use change.
Because of a compromise negotiated just days before the House vote, the U.S. EPA will be barred for five years from calculating indirect land use changes when calculating greenhouse gas emissions. This will allow further scientific study on whether there's a link between biofuels use in the U.S. and tropical deforestation.
"We commend the House of Representatives for passing legislation today that would fix a flawed provision of current law that threatens the future of biofuels production in the U.S. and continues our nation's reliance on foreign oil," Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said following the vote. "The legislation prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from adopting rules to penalize domestic ethanol and biodiesel production for land use changes occurring in foreign countries." Growth Energy is a lobbying group for ethanol producers.
The House bill's other pollution-reduction goals include 42 percent by 2030 and 83 percent by 2050. About 85 percent of government-issued pollution permits would be given out to industries that are big energy users. About 15 percent would be sold. The free permits were designed to ease industry's financial burden and prevent big energy price hikes for consumers. But under the "cap and trade" program, fewer and fewer permits would be made available to companies over the next several decades.
Companies that pollute less than their limit could sell some of their permits to others struggling to comply with new requirements. Moreover, companies could offset up to 2 billion tons of their emissions each year by paying for "green" projects in the U.S. and abroad, such as efforts to preserve rain forests.