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Landmark Climate Change Bill Moves Through Congress

June 26, 2009 at 6:10 PM EDT
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The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday debated landmark climate change legislation that would establish a "cap-and-trade" system for carbon emissions. Kwame Holman reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And still to come on the NewsHour tonight: a health care reform update; stimulus dollars for the schools; Shields and Brooks; and Michael Jackson’s legacy.

That follows this report on today’s climate change debate in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has the story.

CONGRESSMAN: This legislation today offers a solution.

KWAME HOLMAN: The outcome of a vote on climate legislation was in doubt today, even as Democratic leaders decided to bring the bill to the floor for debate. But by this afternoon, Democrats were confident the numbers were in their favor.

REP. ED MARKEY (D), Massachusetts: We will take back America’s position as the technological leader, give back money to consumers by lowering energy bills, send back the millions of barrels of oil we import from foreign dictators every day.

And we will export wind turbines and solar panels that say “Made in America” instead of continuing to import millions of barrels of oil a day that say “Made by OPEC.”

This bill has the ambition of the moon landing, the moral imperative of the Civil Rights Act, and the scope of the Clean Air Act all wrapped up in one.

KWAME HOLMAN: Limits on greenhouse gas emissions are the centerpiece of the bill, called the American Clean Energy and Security Act. It aims to reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent over the next decade and by 83 percent by 2050.

To achieve that, the legislation creates a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions that includes a marketplace for buying and selling pollution credits. It also requires power companies to increase their use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, by 12 percent by 2020.

And the legislation limits pollution from industrial sources while exempting agriculture from caps.

This week, the Congressional Budget Office said the average household would pay an additional $175 per year in energy costs as a result of the bill. But California Republican Wally Herger said the cost to taxpayers would be much higher.

REP. WALLY HERGER (R), California: This legislation is one of the most overreaching, damaging pieces of legislation that has ever come before this House of Representatives.

This national energy tax is a job-killer and will cost American families over $3,000 per year while doing very little to affect global temperatures. Rural America, low- and middle-income families and our farmers will suffer the most under this new tax.

Mr. Speaker, we all want to protect our environment, but we should accomplish that through innovation and investment, not by government micromanagement that undercuts Americans’ ability to compete globally.

KWAME HOLMAN: Most Republicans agreed. That left the fate of the bill in the hands of Democrats, especially wary members from coal-producing states and fiscal moderates concerned about the legislation’s price tag.

Negotiations here at the Capitol lasted into the early hours this morning, ultimately producing a bill more than 1,200 pages long. And the lobbying effort has been fierce. In her meetings, Speaker Pelosi plied undecided Democrats with chocolate, and senior aides to President Obama have been active on the phones and in person on the Hill.

Entreaties even were made last night at a White House luau for members of Congress. And at an appearance today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama praised Germany’s investment in renewable energy.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: It’s my hope that the United States will match that commitment today, when our House of Representatives votes on a critical energy bill that will promote a new generation of clean, renewable energy in our country.

CONGRESSWOMAN: The gentleman from Maryland is recognized for one minute.

KWAME HOLMAN: Back at the Capitol, with the bill moving toward narrow passage in the House, attention turned to the Senate, where another tough partisan fight on climate legislation is expected.