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The House Climate Vote Defies Expectation

Frances Beinecke

Posted June 26, 2009

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The House just passed its first-ever bill designed to unleash clean energy opportunities, create millions of jobs, and combat global warming.

This historic vote defied expectations. Back in January, few people believed that six months into a new session and a new administration--and in the midst of an economic meltdown--we could pass transformative clean energy legislation in the House.

Well we did it. And we did it because this is America's quickest path toward a cleaner, more prosperous future.

House leaders Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, and Ed Markey deserve a great deal of the credit for this success.

This was not an easy fight. The bill touched off regional differences and challenged Big Oil's and Big Coal's stranglehold on America's energy supply. Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, had to corral many opposing interests to create a bill that would get out of committee and survive the bumpy journey through the Senate and on to the White House.

The bill that made it past the House will help America begin to address the climate crisis. I hope that the bill will become stronger as it progresses along the legislative process, but as Waxman said at a recent press conference: all the essentials for fighting global warming are already in the bill. (Watch the video release NRDC produced on the significance of this bill.)

One of the keys to this bill's success was that Americans from all walks of life urged their lawmakers to back climate action. (Click here to learn about the cross-section of Americans who came to a DC rally in support of the bill on Wednesday.)

I saw it for myself. In the past year, I traveled the country to help build momentum for national climate legislation, and the people I talked to--from clean energy entrepreneurs in Cleveland to labor organizers in Chicago, from national security experts in Georgia to religious leaders in New York-- all believe that building a clean, sustainable energy future will unleashing enormous opportunities for Americans. I agree, and that is why I am thrilled that the House passed this bill.

But I also recognize that this is just the beginning. We need to improve this bill and get it through the Senate and on to the president's desk, and we need to do it before the international climate negotiations begin in December in Copenhagen.

The fight in the Senate will be challenging. But just as we defied expectations in the House, we can defy them in the Senate.

In the coming weeks, my NRDC and colleagues and I will be turning all our attention to this final push. The House's historic passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act just gave our efforts powerful momentum.

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Bill PeltzJun 29 2009 05:02 PM

But was it really worth doing?

It's a weak bill.

I'm with Dennis Kucinich and other progressives who voted against this disastrously compromised bill. It won't do the job that needs to be done, and it gives away too much in the cap-and-trade program.

As Rev. Billy of the Church of Life After Shopping (formerly the Church of Stop Shopping) says, "At this point in our history, gradualism is corruption."

So please don't promote complacency by over-praising this bill as it now stands. Saying that it needs improvement in the Senate is an understatement -- but the prospects for improving it there don't look good.

The big job will be to work on the next bill.

Frances BeineckeJun 30 2009 11:49 AM


I agree that ACES must be strengthened, and NRDC will be working relentlessly to achieve that when the bill moves through the Senate.

But I do not agree that we can wait to work on the next bill. The science tells us that we simply don’t have the time. In order to prevent the worst effects of global warming from becoming inevitable, we must start reducing carbon pollution right now.

ACES gets us moving down that path. The urgency to cut carbon emissions is so great that I am not willing to wait. We need to move forward now.

I am also reassured by one critical element of ACES: the science “look-backs.” These dictate that if new scientific evidence comes in after the bill has pass that calls for stronger action, our lawmakers can tighten the pollution constraints.

This mechanism has already proven effective. Soon after the Montreal Protocol was ratified, scientists concluded that the treaty wasn’t strict enough, and the international community rapidly agreed to strengthen it.

But this only works when there is a framework already in place. That is what ACES gives us, and building the framework is always the hardest part.

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