Clean energy legislation gets a face lift and passes to the Senate

July 9, 2009 at 2:29 pm Leave a comment

Last The House of Representatives has passed “landmark” legislation with the 219-212 vote for the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill serves to help revitalize our economy by creating “over 300,000 jobs by 2020,” according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Furthermore, the bill will increase national energy security by reducing dependence on foreign oil, and it establishes a legal limit on global warming pollution in our country.

“We have taken decisive and historic action to promote America’s energy security and to create millions of clean energy jobs that will drive our economic recovery and long-term growth,” said Chairman Waxman. “After more than three decades of being held hostage to the influence of foreign energy suppliers, this legislation at long last begins to break our addiction to imported foreign oil and put us on a path to true energy security.”

President Obama called the American Clean Energy and Security Act an “extraordinary piece of legislation that will finally open the door to decreasing our dependence on foreign oil, preventing the worst consequences of climate change, and making clean energy the profitable kind of energy.

The run up to this vote made clear how much difference a phone call or letter to Congress can make. Some Representatives reportedly based their decision to support the bill on the comments they received from constituents.

The bill contains the following key provisions:

* Requires electric utilities to meet 20% of their electricity demand through renewable energy sources and energy efficiency by 2020.

* Invests $190 billion in new clean energy technologies and energy efficiency, including energy efficiency and renewable energy.

* Mandates new energy-saving standards for buildings, appliances, and industry.

* Reduces carbon emissions from major U.S. sources by 17% by 2020 and over 80% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels.

Colin Hagan, Federal Policy Associate for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the narrow vote demonstrates how critical it is that we build strong support in the Senate.  “Friday’s vote means we are a step closer to having a 21st century energy policy, but it is far from over.”

As far as ACES itself is concerned, many environmentalists – myself included – view this victory as somewhat bittersweet; from a historical standpoint, the passage of ACES is a remarkable achievement. The fact that so many representatives did vote for the legislation says something about how far the environmental movement has come. From a scientific point of view, however, the bill is hardly where it needs to be in order to make a significant and lasting impact on human-induced climate change. Before debates even began, targets were weakened, cap-and-trade regulations were modified, and, ultimately, the bill was reworked and restructured so that it would please officials and corporations rather than secure the future of our planet.

Perhaps the most notable of the naysayers was Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, who called global warming a “hoax” ( and charged the scientific community with fabricating evidence and “perpetrating” a lie. In the words of Broun, “there is no scientific consensus” that climate change is a real and imminent threat to the livelihood of our planet. And unfortunately, Broun is not the only denier in the House – his comments were met with applause. A slight applause, but an applause nonetheless.

As both a student and one of Broun’s constituents, I am imaginably shocked and disgusted at his remarks. I urge Broun’s constituents (or anyone who is concerned, for that matter) to phone, e-mail, or fax ( Broun’s office to let him know how we feel. After all, it’s up to us to hold officials accountable and keep them informed on the opinions of their constituents.

Aside from blatantly denying the existence of global warming, Broun also misinformed his audience by stating that ACES would ultimately cost American families an added $3,100 in annual taxes. To be frank, this claim is absolutely false, as a study by the Congressional Budget Office ( projects the rise in taxes to equal about $175 a year in 2020. In the words of the report itself, “overall net costs would average 0.2 percent of households’ after-tax income.” And this number, of course, does not include the money saved by families as households begin to transition to the budget-friendly, environmentally-conscious energy sources outlined in the bill. The same report predicts that some families may even see a net profit of $40 a year in 2020. This isn’t a huge amount of money, but at least it’s in the pocket of American families.
But let’s not dwell on the negative. Senate debates will begin this fall and we must urge the Senate to take action on this bill. Please contact your senators, write letters to the editor, blog posts, Facebook notes, or Twitter feeds. Involve yourself with campus organizations and volunteer to help spread the word within your community. Urge your family and friends to take action by following the same steps. More importantly, though, we must put pressure on elected officials to act responsibly and with consideration. Call their offices, send them e-mails, letters, or faxes. Do everything you can to make sure your voice is heard and it just might make a difference.

Although ACES may not be the most comprehensive, scientifically-grounded piece of climate legislation, it is, to be fair, a promising start to what I hope to be a long and progressive path of national and global climate change initiatives. Let’s get this bill passed! After all, we have to have something to show off at December’s Climate Conference in Copenhagen.




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