WASHINGTON - In a triumph for President Barack Obama, theDemocratic-controlled House narrowly passed sweeping legislationFriday that calls for the nation's first limits on pollution linkedto global warming and aims to usher in a new era of cleaner, yetmore costly energy.
The vote was 219-212, capping months of negotiations and days ofintense bargaining among Democrats. Republicans were overwhelminglyagainst the measure, arguing it would destroy jobs in the midst ofa recession while burdening consumers with a new tax in the form ofhigher energy costs.
At the White House, Obama said the bill would create jobs, andadded that with its vote, the House had put America on a pathtoward leading the way toward "creating a 21st century globaleconomy."
The House's action fulfilled Speaker Nancy Pelosi's vow to clearmajor energy legislation before July 4. It also sent the measure toa highly uncertain fate in the Senate, where Majority Leader HarryReid said he was "hopeful that the Senate will be able to debateand pass bipartisan and comprehensive clean energy and climatelegislation this fall."
Obama lobbied recalcitrant Democrats by phone from the WhiteHouse as the House debate unfolded across several hours, and AlGore posted a statement on his Web site saying the measurerepresents "an essential first step towards solving the climatecrisis." The former vice president won a Nobel Peace Prize for hiswork drawing attention to the destructive potential of globalwarming.
On the House floor, Democrats hailed the legislation ashistoric, while Republicans said it would damage the economywithout solving the nation's energy woes.
It is "the most important energy and environmental legislationin the history of our country," said Rep. Ed Markey of
Massachusetts. "It sets a new course for our country, one thatsteers us away from foreign oil and towards a path of cleanAmerican energy."
But Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican leader, used anextraordinary one-hour speech shortly before the final vote to warnof unintended consequences in what he said was a "defining bill."He called it a "bureaucratic nightmare" that would cost jobs,depress real estate prices and put the government into parts of theeconomy where it now has no role.
The legislation would require the U.S. to reduce carbon dioxideand other greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levelsby 2020 and by about 80 percent by mid-century. That was slightlymore aggressive than Obama originally wanted, 14 percent by 2020and the same 80 percent by mid-century.
U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuelsare rising at about 1 percent a year and are predicted to continueincreasing without mandatory limits.
Under the bill, the government would limit heat-trappingpollution from factories, refineries and power plants and issueallowances for polluters. Most of the allowances would be givenaway, but about 15 percent would be auctioned by bid and theproceeds used to defray higher energy costs for lower-incomeindividuals and families.
"Some would like to do more. Some would like to do less,"House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in advance of thefinal vote. "But we have reached a compromise ... and it is acompromise that can pass this House, pass that Senate, be signed bythe president and become law and make progress."
That seemed unlikely, judging from Reid's cautiously wordedstatement. "The bill is not perfect," it said, but rather "agood product" for the Senate to begin working on.
And there was plenty to work on in a House-passed measure thatpointed toward higher electricity bills for the middle class,particularly in the Midwest and South, as well as steps to ease theway for construction of new nuclear reactors, the first to be builtsince the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979.
The bill's controversy was on display in the House, where onlyeight Republicans joined 211 Democrats in favor, while 44 Democratsjoined 168 Republicans in opposition. And within an hour of thevote, both party campaign committees had begun attacking lawmakersfor their votes.
One of the biggest compromises involved the near totalelimination of an administration plan to sell pollution permits andraise more than $600 billion over a decade -- money to financecontinuation of a middle class tax cut. About 85 percent of thepermits are to be given away rather than sold, a concession toenergy companies and their allies in the House -- and even that isuncertain to survive in the Senate.
The final bill also contained concessions to satisfy farm-statelawmakers, ethanol producers, hydroelectric advocates, the nuclearindustry and others, some of them so late that they were not madepublic until 3 a.m. on Friday.
Supporters and opponents agreed the bill's result would behigher energy costs but disagreed vigorously on the impact onconsumers. Democrats pointed to two reports -- one from thenonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the other from the
Environmental Protection Agency -- that suggested average increaseswould be limited after tax credits and rebates were taken intoaccount. The CBO estimated the bill would cost an average household$175 a year, the EPA $80 to $110 a year.
Republicans questioned the validity of the CBO study and notedthat even that analysis showed actual energy production costsincreasing $770 per household. Industry groups have cited otherstudies showing much higher costs to the economy and toindividuals.
The White House and congressional Democrats argued the billwould create millions of "green jobs" as the nation shifts togreater reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind and solarand development of more fuel-efficient vehicles -- and away from useof fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.
It will "make our nation the world leader on clean energy jobsand technology," declared Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., whonegotiated deals with dozens of lawmakers in recent weeks tobroaden the bill's support.
Pelosi, D-Calif., took an intense personal interest in themeasure, sitting through hours of meetings with members of the rankand file and nurturing fragile compromises.
At its heart, the bill was a trade-off, less than the WhiteHouse initially sought though it was more than Republicans said wasacceptable. Some of the dealmaking had a distinct political feel.Rep. Alan Grayson, a first-term Democrat, won a pledge of supportthat $50 million from the proceeds of pollution permit sales in thebill would go to a proposed new hurricane research facility in hisdistrict in Orlando, Fla.
In the run-up to the vote, Democrats left little to chance.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., confirmed by the Senate onThursday to an administration post, put off her resignation fromCongress until after the final vote on the climate change bill. AndRep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who has been undergoing treatment atan undisclosed facility, returned to the Capitol to support thelegislation. He has said he struggles with depression, alcoholismand addiction, but has not specified the cause for his most recentabsence.