House Climate Change Bill Clears Key Hurdle

House Climate Change Bill Clears Key Hurdle

The nation’s first federal climate change bill cleared a key hurdle last night by making it out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on a 33-25 vote.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman-Markey bill because of its two authors, now heads to the full House and could see a vote as early as late June, according to reports. But the massive bill faces more revisions as it makes its way through additional committees and also faces opposition in the Senate.

The bill ‘s centerpiece is a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program that aims to reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by 2050. Roughly 15 percent of the carbon permits in the framework would be auctioned off, with the remaining permits given away to a variety of interests, such as electricity distributors, natural gas companies, oil refiners and carbon-intensive industries, such as steel and cement.

For a breakdown of the allocation and other provisions, see: "Waxman-Markey Climate Change Bill Advances."

"This bill, when enacted into law this year, will break our dependence on foreign oil, make our nation the world leader in clean energy jobs and technology, and cut global warming pollution," Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement Thursday. Waxman and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) authored the bill.

The day after the Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill, reports surfaced illustrating the still-difficult road ahead for the bill. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, for example, reportedly wants to alter the bill to protect farmers from higher energy prices, which will trickle down to impact necessities such as fertilizer. The corn ethanol industry, in particular, is vulnerable to restrictions on the feedstocks used to make the biofuel.

The greenhouse gas caps in the bill's current form, as well as a separate limit on hydrofluorocarbon, a potent gas, would cut emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels, just shy of the bill's 17 percent reduction goal, according to an analysis published this week by the World Resources Institute. By 2050, emissions would fall 73 percent.

However, other supplementary measures in the bill could potentially reduce emissions 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and by 75 percent by 2050. For instance, the bill requires funding of international forestry projects and development of new industrial performance standards, both of which will further cut emissions by millions of metric tons.

Emissions could be reduced even further depending on the amount of international offsets actually used. For example, 1.25 international offsets must be turned in for every required tonne of regulated emissions, so although every five international offsets will count as four, the extra tonnes will still accumulate.

“Though the 2020 target is slightly less stringent, the long-term targets are still intact setting the U.S. on a pathway to cut emissions substantially from business as usual,” Co-author John Larsen said in a statement upon releasing the analysis this week.

Point Carbon released its own study of the Waxman-Markey bill, finding half of the pollution allowances would help consumers. The bill seeks to avoid the windfall profits enjoyed by European Union utilities in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme with carefully worded provisions and the role of state public utility or regulatory bodies, which must approve and oversee use of the allowances for the exclusive benefit of consumers, the analysis found.

Image courtesy of the office of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)