Saturday, June 27, 2009
Glass Half-Full - ACES Passes House Test
Hailed as a historic vote that will establish the US as a player in upcoming international climate talks the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) narrowly passed through the House of Representatives last night by a vote of 219-212.
The vote followed party lines with only eight republicans voting in favor and 44 democrats voting against. Curiously enough, the bill would not have passed without the support of the eight republicans.
So what does it mean?
Also known as the Waxman-Markey Bill, the first major environmental bill of the Obama administration will introduce as its centerpiece a soft cap and trade program for greenhouse gas emissions. The voluntary cap and trade program will supercede those programs that have been developed by individual states from 2012-2017.
The contentious cap and trade program is the first of its kind since a similar system was enacted in 1990 in an effort to reduce sulfur emissions that cause acid rain.
Proponents of the bill say that carbon emissions will drop 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels and a staggering 83 percent by 2050. The UN has called for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
ACES also calls for an increase in renewable energy production that is equivalent to 20 percent of the total energy needs of the United States. One third of this target is expected to come through energy efficiency measures.
Initial reaction to ACES is mixed
Reaction to the passage of ACES has been mixed. Greenpeace says that the plan as it is is too weak. They have called the act, "inadequate." Green For All is pleased that two equity provisions - including one that invests $860 million for the Green Jobs Act - was included.
Industry groups were also split. Ford being one of the notable corporations that was on side. It is reported that in the weeks leading up to the vote that Big Oil/Big Coal outspent environmental groups 16:1.
Both sides of the ACES debate jammed the phone and fax lines yesterday to gather support from congress causing the switchboard to temporarily crash when the outcome of the vote was still in doubt.
A lot of the criticism of ACES stems from the more than 300 pages of amendments to the 1200 page bill. The issue of agricultural greenhouse gas emission and its place in ACES did not sway many of the 44 Democrats who called for the concessions in the first place.
"Now is the time for us to lead," said president Obama on Thursday. "We cannot be afraid of the future. We cannot be prisoners to the past."
It is the failed policies of the past that the international community sees when looking for leadership from the United States in the next round of climate change talks scheduled for Copenhagen later this year.
Initial reaction to the passage of ACES is one of modest optimism. Will that optimism continue as ACES tries to make its way through the Senate before year's end or are more concessions to follow before Copenhagen?
The numbers are not there right now for the bill to pass through the Senate. Too many Democrats from agricultural/resource-based states voted against the bill in Congress to think that they will stand as one and vote en masse to get the requisite 60 votes for passage of ACES in the Senate.
Senate Democrats have yet to reveal their environmental plans and many observers foresee more concessions as the bill moves to the Senate. While the passage of ACES is historic today from the viewpoint of the Senate, the glass looks half-empty.