The U.S. House narrowly passed a sweeping climate change bill that's a top item on President Obama's agenda. The measure would put gradually stricter caps on the total national output of heat-trapping gases, based on a system of permits that can be bought and sold.
Republicans broadly oppose that cap and trade program, and many Democrats have qualms as well. Proponents say it's key to curbing global warming.
It was high drama in the House chamber Friday night as the roll call vote on the climate change bill came to an end and the results were announced — the measure passed 219-212.
Only eight Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with most Democrats for the bill; 44 Democrats joined most Republicans in voting against it. For Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, who chairs the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee, the vote marked a key turning point:
"This is a revolution. This is a moment in history. This is what the American people were calling for in the election of 2008, a fundamental change," Markey said.
But some Democrats voted against the bill because they said it did too little to curb global warming. In order to win wider support, the bill's target of reducing greenhouse emissions by 20 percent in a decade was cut to 17 percent of 2005 levels. Other Democrats from farm and coal mining states agreed with Republican critics such as Virginia's Bob Goodlatte.
"This bill has very important consequences, but those consequences are devastating for the future of the economy of this country, and it's in pursuit of the fantasy of thinking that this legislation will cause us to be able to turn down the thermostat of the world by reducing CO2 gas emissions, when China and India and other nations are pumping more and more CO2 gas into the atmosphere all the time," Goodlatte said.
A recent congressional study found the cap-and-trade bill would raise energy costs less than $200 a year for the average household. Still, West Virginia Republican Shelley Moore Capito called it unfair:
"It is a national energy tax that will burden consumers, burden businesses, and particularly burden the lower-income families in this country — particularly the lower income. It picks regional winners and losers, with coal-dependent states like mine, West Virginia, bearing the brunt of this bill," she said.
Michigan Democrat John Dingell had long been a skeptic himself of climate change legislation. But he said a Supreme Court ruling two years ago that carbon dioxide is a pollutant has made it imperative for Congress to regulate greenhouse gases.
"Otherwise, greenhouse gases will be regulated by EPA. And if you want something to shudder about, I beg you to take a look at that," Dingell said.
The Senate has yet to take up a climate change bill. In his weekly address, President Obama congratulated the House and prodded the Senate.
"Now my call to every senator, as well as to every American, is this: We cannot be afraid of the future. And we must not be prisoners of the past. Don't believe the misinformation out there that suggests there is somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and economic growth. It's just not true," Obama said.
And as he did with the economic stimulus, the president called this a jobs bill.