It wasn’t an easy journey, yet the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) cleared a first hurdle yesterday evening as the House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved it by a vote of 33 to 25. While there is still a long road ahead to realize effective climate legislation that reduces America’s global warming pollution by developing clean, renewable energy that will create jobs, save money and help achieve energy independence, last night’s vote represented a first step forward.
ACES is the first comprehensive climate legislation ever considered by the U.S. House of Representatives, and Energy and Commerce Chairmen, Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, worked tirelessly to meet an ambitious goal of moving the bill through the Committee before Memorial Day. What passed the Committee last night represents a compromise that brought along moderate Democrats and a west-coast Republican who were concerned about the impacts that the bill may have back home. Unfortunately, however, the compromises make it very clear just how strong the influence of utilities and industries has been – they spent a reported $79 million lobbying Congress to weaken the bill.
For example, ACES gives away 60 percent of the pollution permits in the initial years to corporations and polluters – in many cases, the very entities that have worsened global warming pollution in the past decades. These permits, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, could be auctioned to help address the financial impact of reducing global warming pollution instead of given away for free. Industries have argued that they will keep prices low if they get pollution permits for free, but the truth is that those free permits will most likely add to their profits.
In fact, experts agree that financial impacts on consumers will be the same whether or not the industries get the pollution permits for free, but if we auction or sell the permits, we can use that money to help families and businesses and invest in clean energy.
Another early target for industry lobbyists in this legislation was the renewable electricity standard (RES). The benefits of the originally-proposed 25 percent RES by 2025 are clear. However, because of changes to the bill and expanded exemptions, the RES might not actually encourage renewable energy development much beyond what is expected to occur as a result of existing policies.
Fortunately, ACES survived several attempts to weaken the bill even further, such as by expanding credit for non-renewable energy sources in the RES. Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida stands out for working to strengthen the renewable energy components of the bill. We applaud her efforts and encourage residents of her district in Tampa, Florida and the region to thank her for championing clean energy and clean energy businesses over business-as-usual.
Now other Committees will have a chance to weigh in on this important legislation as last night’s vote only cleared the first hurdle in a longer race. What remains to be seen is whether the plan will get stronger or whether it suffers additional weakening attacks. We can’t afford a national energy policy that is a clean energy bill in name only.