Historic Energy Legislation Survives Narrow House Vote

Cornerstone bill would cut greenhouse gases, carbon emissions

At mid-day, Clyburn told reporters that it would be tough but the legislation would pass. It had cleared a morning procedural, or test, vote by 217 to 205, with several defecting Democrats. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), whom the Senate confirmed on Thursday as undersecretary of State for arms control, maintained she would not resign the House until after the final vote.  Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) left a rehab program to cast his vote while Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon who has been recovering from heart surgery, also returned to Washington for the vote.

Lawmakers supporting the bill argued that the legislation will curb greenhouse gases that are believed to contribute to global warming and reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Moreover, they maintain it would create hundreds of thousands of new green energy jobs.

But Republicans, during three hours of debate on Friday afternoon, strongly disagreed, calling the bill a “job killer” and a “national energy tax” that would impose costs on both families and businesses, driving thousands of jobs overseas. Minority leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the act “the most profound piece of legislation to come to this floor in 100 years,” before launching an hour-long speech on how it would create a bureaucratic nightmare if passed.

Congressional Black Caucus members Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D- Miss.), chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, initially opposed the legislation because of its impact on their respective home states. Democratic leaders were able to win support with concessions designed to ease specific burdens on local industrial concerns, low-income households and small businesses such as tax credits.

“I got some agreements that reflect the concerns of the South, and Georgia in particular. One was that we expanded the definition of renewables to include biomass, which we have there,” Scott says. He also fought for a change to the Energy Star label, which would have required all home sales to include a certificate on how much appliances and energy systems conform to green standards. By making the modification, the law would affect only new homes. “My district, which is suburban and rural, has older homes so I wanted to get the Energy Star labeling in there that would give some help in consideration of the pricing of these older homes when they are made energy efficient.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents the petroleum-rich state of Texas, also sat on the fence until certain concessions were made. She fought for the Energy Star provision as well as the inclusion of a grant program for female- and minority-owned businesses to stimulate business plan competitions and green energy start-ups.

The National Black Chamber of Commerce has opposed the bill, warning that cap and trade would hurt American consumers by making products more expensive. A study released by the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research found that 76% of African Americans believe climate legislation should be delayed until the economy recovers and that 38% say that job losses as a result of the bill would be felt most strongly in the black community.

Consumers can expect an eventual increase in utility bills but the impact has yet to be measured. A recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office stated that the average household would be hit with the cost $175 per year which Democrats say is equivalent to the price of a postage stamp a day. Another report by the Environmental Protection Agency estimates an increase of $80 to $110 a year.

“I think when people emphasize cost and they are not able to look at the benefits, you’ll always get a distorted view,” Clyburn says. “We were able to get people to understand that there’s a tremendous benefit to this.”

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