After four days of debate and weeks of behind the scenes horse-trading with coal-state Democrats, Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey got the committee votes they needed tonight to send their American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill to the House.
Those votes didn't come cheap, though, and it shows in the nearly 1,000-page bill that was finally approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The bill is far weaker than President Obama and the nation's environmental leaders had envisioned. So much so that Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen and nine other environmental groups announced tonight that they cannot support the bill unless it is significantly strengthened.
"While a week of debate failed to adequately strengthen protections for consumers, communities, and the climate in this bill, it erased all doubt of who will benefit most from it: Big Business," they wrote.
"The resulting bill reflects the triumph of politics over science, and the triumph of industry influence over the public interest.
"The targets are far less ambitious than what is achievable with already existing technology.
"They are further undermined by massive loopholes that could allow the most polluting industries to avoid real emission reductions until 2027. Rather than provide relief and support to consumers, the bill showers polluting industries with hundreds of billions of dollars in free allowances and direct subsidies that will slow renewable energy development and lock in a new generation of dirty coal-fired power plants.
"At the same time, the bill would remove the President's authority to address global warming pollution using laws already on the books."
The ACES bill has the structure that Obama and many of the environmental groups were looking for – a cap-and-trade mechanism to cut greenhouse gas emissions and a renewable electricity standard to pressure utilities to invest in solar, wind, wave and other clean energy sources.
But the targets for both have been slashed, with the midterm greenhouse gas reduction targets – now 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 – falling far below the 25- to 40-percent cut from 1990 levels that the IPCC says is necessary from developed countries to mitigate climate change.
The carbon trading program in the approved ACES bill is also laden with free pollution credits and offsets that lift pressure off coal-burning power companies for the next decade or more. No wonder the United Mine Workers of America is pleased with the outcome. See our analysis of the bill posted earlier this week for details on how ACES gives coal a competitive future and this post for an analysis of the allowance giveaways.
The final vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee tonight was 33-25, with only one Republican, Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California, joining the majority of Democrats in favor of the bill.
Four Democrats voted no: Mike Ross of Arkansas, John Barrow of Georgia, Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, and Jim Matheson of Utah.
President Obama commended Waxman and the committee for their work, saying:
"We are now one step closer to delivering on the promise of a new clean energy economy that will make America less dependent on foreign oil, crack down on polluters, and create millions of new jobs all across America.
"The bill is historic for what it achieves, providing clean energy incentives that encourage innovation while recognizing the concerns of sensitive industries and regions in this country. And this achievement is all the more historic for bringing together many who have in the past opposed a common effort, from labor unions to corporate CEOs, and environmentalists to energy companies."
Former Vice President Al Gore, still a strong support of the legislation, also lauded the committee, calling the bill's passage "a crucial step forward in addressing the global climate crisis, the need for millions of new green jobs to end the recession, and the national security threats that have long been linked to our growing dependence on foreign oil and other fossil fuels."
"I encourage Congress to further strengthen this excellent legislation during floor consideration and move to pass this bill in both the House and the Senate this year," Gore said.
The ACES bill isn't finished with the House committee process yet. Other committees are still hashing out their sections of the legislation, and one in particular has the power to strengthen the legislation.
New York Rep. Charles Rangel's House Ways and Means Committee could rewrite the free permits and instead do what Obama envisioned: auction off all the pollution permits and rebate the proceeds to the American citizens.
First, members of Congress are headed home for their Memorial Day recess.
Congressional leaders hope to have the bill through the House this summer and into the Senate, where lawmakers are considering their own climate legislation.