House Passes Climate Change Bill

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The vote on a historic bill to fight global warming passed by just a seven-vote margin. The measure sets up a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and encourage greater use of clean energy.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

President Obama has a message for Congress: Pass the climate change bill.

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm the first one to acknowledge that the United States over the last several years has not been where we need to be. We're not going to get there all in one fell swoop, but I'm very proud of the progress that's being made and I think that the energy bill that's being debated in the House is an example of that progress.

BLOCK: Today, House Democrats are trying to round up votes. The measure would put a price on carbon emissions. NPR's David Welna joins us from Capitol Hill with the latest on the state of play, and David, we've been hearing a lot of anticipation about this vote, big vote today in the House on global warming. What's going on?

DAVID WELNA: Well, Melissa, this is the typical push you see right before recess comes. It's always easier to get things through Congress when members are chomping at the bit to go home. But there's also the fact that the G8 foreign ministers are meeting right now in Italy, and House passage of this major climate change legislation could send a strong signal that the Obama administration is serious about taking the lead in global climate change negotiations that will take place in Copenhagen in December.

There's also the political fact that Mr. Obama is still riding high on popularity polls and the fact that he's so closely identified with this bill could give it the boost that it needs before his numbers go down, as they might. But there's also a logistical problem and it's that a huge overhaul of health care is sort of crowding out all the other business in Capitol Hill. So, House Democratic leaders wanted to clear the decks before this July 4th recess by getting this big climate change bill done and sent over to the Senate.

BLOCK: Well, this bill is, what? Something, 1,200 pages, is that right?

WELNA: It is. I don't know how many members have actually read those 1,200 pages. But, you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Can you condense it a bit for us? Tell us what's in it?

WELNA: Essentially this bill aims both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, thus, global warming, and to transform the kind of energy that Americans use to make it cleaner and less dependent on foreign suppliers. The centerpiece is what's called a cap-and-trade program. It sets limits or caps on the amount of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, that industry and power utilities can emit and then allows them to trade those permits to pollute, giving those industries a big incentive to reduce their emissions. The goal is to reduce overall emissions by 17 percent a decade from now and by more than 80 percent in four decades.

The bill also has new mandates that require increasing percentages of electricity to be produced from renewable resources. And it also mandates new energy efficiency standards, all with the idea of reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. And there's also a fairly controversial provision that's been added to the bill that allows the U.S. to put a new tax on imports from countries such as China and India that don't reduce their emissions as much as the U.S. has, and that's likely going to raise cries of unfair protectionism.

BLOCK: Yeah, it does seem that lawmakers on both sides have found something to hate in this bill. Let's talk first about the Democrats. What's the problem for them?

WELNA: Well, on the one side you have some Democrats who feel the bill has been too watered down in the effort to pick up more support. They're especially critical of concessions made to farm state lawmakers that put the egg department in charge of keeping track of rural emissions, such as burping and flatulating livestock rather than the Environmental Protection Agency. And then you have Democrats from farm states and coal-producing states who fear that even with the changes that have been made, the costs that arise from this bill are still going to hit their states harder than the rest of the country.

BLOCK: And what about for the Republicans?

WELNA: Well, most Republicans say this is a job-killer bill that amounts to a big tax hike on Americans. That's because they assume the industries and utilities will pass along the costs of pollution permits to consumers, and they say the bill could cost American households about $3,000 a year. But Democrats point to a new study done by the Congressional Budget Office that puts that cost below $200 a year. So, there's a big difference there.

BLOCK: I'm still thinking about those burping livestock, David. How does all this get resolved?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WELNA: Well, even if this does squeak through the House, and it looks like it will be a very close vote, it still has to make it through the Senate, which may be even more difficult. And if Congress fails to pass climate change legislation, the EPA does have a mandate to do it on its own and Democrats are hoping the threat of that happening will get Congress to act.

BLOCK: Okay, NPR's David Welna at The Capitol. David, thanks a lot.

WELNA: You're welcome, Melissa.

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