Here we go. The U.S. House is about to launch a three-hour debate and then a vote this afternoon on the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) climate bill.
Under the rules that were just approved, only two amendments will be considered, one from each party:
The first is a 310-page manager's amendment submitted early this morning by ACES author Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
The bulk of Waxman's amendment involves the concessions that Waxman made to Rep. Collin Peterson and his farm-state Democrats to win their support for the climate bill, including shifting oversight of offset programs from the EPA to the Department of Agriculture and restricting how the EPA evaluates lifecycle emissions from biofuels. Greenpeace named both as tipping points for its decision yesterday to call on the House to reject the ACES legislation.
Waxman's amendment also incorporates a proposal from Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nevada) that would extend the length of government contracts for renewable energy purchases from 10 years to 20 years to encourage more solar investments in places such as military bases.
The Republican amendment was written by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) to replace the text of ACES with his "New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence."
Forbes' proposal doesn't establish emissions targets, a cap-and-trade program or renewable electricity standards, as ACES does. Instead it would set up a commission to come up with recommendations by next year that could move the United States to 100 percent energy independence by 2030.
To get to that goal, Forbes' plan would tap the nation's entrepreneurial spirit by establishing prizes to encourage for the first people or groups to meet these seven goals: make 70 mpg vehicles that are affordable, cut home and business energy usage in half, make solar power work at the same cost as coal, make biofuels cost-competitive with gasoline, safely and cheaply capture carbon emissions and store them, safely store or neutralize nuclear waste, and produce usable electricity from nuclear fusion.
Just about everyone was weighing in on the bill this morning, from editorials in the major newspapers, to the head of the European Commission, to members of Congress speaking out. Here's a sample:
On the House floor, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) urged his colleagues who still claim climate change is a hoax to take off their blinders.
"There are hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies that say climate change is real and man's actions are contributing," Quigley said. "Let's face reality and do what's right for our children and our children's children."
Several Republicans, including Texas Rep. Joe Barton, complained the bill was being rushed to a vote without giving House members enough time to study its 1,201 pages or Waxman's new amendment. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a member of the Rules Committee, said not one member had read the entire bill: "We even joked about that as we walked in."
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) pulled up a photograph to illustrate an opposition view of ACES:
"If we pass this bill we get this: Unemployed miners."
Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), speaking on CSPAN, described the debate as optimists vs. pessimists and argued that it was worth 47 cents a day to leave healthy forests and coasts to the next generation.
"Take a deep breath here. Look at the evidence," Inslee said. "The status quo is not good enough."
President Obama, who stayed behind the scenes on the bill until this week, yesterday publicly urged House members, Republican and Democrat, to pass the bill because it would create clean energy jobs and keep the United States at the forefront of the technology. He then joined Waxman and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in lobbying undecided members into the evening at a White House luau.
Supporters need 218 votes for the bill to pass, and last night the count was close.
From Brussels this morning, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also urged the House to pass the bill, telling The Associated Press:
"We want the U.S. to go as far and as fast as they can on climate change," Barroso said. "We want Waxman-Markey to succeed. ... Rarely, perhaps, has U.S. domestic legislation been so carefully monitored internationally."
"President Obama's personal commitment ... has amounted to nothing less than a sea-change in the U.S. position. His leadership means that the United States is now back at the table."
Newspaper editorial writers across the country weighed in on both sides of the debate.
The Washington Post, like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, argued that the bill wasn't strong enough:
"It's not too late to hope for a cleaner cap-and-trade bill – such proposals are circulating on Capitol Hill – or a properly designed carbon tax. Given that congressional action could set a template for years or decades, we think it's too soon to settle for something that falls so far short of ideal."
The New York Times, like Sierra Club and 1sky, argued that while ACES isn't perfect, it's a necessary step forward – there is no more time to waste:
"We believe that it is an important beginning to the urgent task of averting the worst damage from climate change. Approval would show that the United States is ready to lead and would pressure other countries to follow. Rejection could mean more wasted years and more damage to the planet."
London's Guardian newspaper stressed in its own editorial that the world was looking to Washington for action:
"Yes, the U.S. is late to the climate-change fight; true, these steps are not big enough. But Washington is at last playing catch-up - and that is cause for modest optimism."
Back on the House floor, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) described the conflict that lawmakers from energy states like hers faced between their region's industries and the need to do what's right for the planet.
"This is heavy lifting. This is for the courageous," she said. "In this legislation there is a great effort to ensure that the American people are addressed fairly. ... We have to get started. We have to be innovative."