A Greener (Capitol) Hill

June 29, 2009

The U.S. House of Representatives has now proven they are interested in clean energy and reducing carbon emissions released by Americans and American business.  They have passed the Waxman-Markey bill, designed to curb carbon emissions by setting  a cap-and-trade program to cut global warming pollution.   What does that mean? 

With a "cap," each large-scale carbon emitter, or company, will have a limit on the amount of greenhouse gas that it can put out. This particular proposal would require companies to have a "permit" for every ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. As time goes on, the limits on these permits, their size and ability to obtain them would become stricter until ultimately, our country reduces its carbon emissions, the limits become stricter, allowing less and less pollution, until the ultimate reduction goal is met.

The trade: It will be relatively cheaper or easier for some companies to reduce their emissions below their required limit than others. These more efficient companies, who emit less than their allowance, can sell their extra permits to companies that are not able to make reductions as easily. 
 
The bill aims to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change: 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, with other measures promising additional reductions. At its core is a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program that gives away about 85 percent of the carbon permits to utilities, heavy industry, refiners, among others, and includes provisions to shield consumers from rising energy prices.  Environmentalists are very excited about the bill's passing. 

"This vote was a major hurdle, and we've cleared it," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.  "President Obama can walk into the G8 summit of world leaders in Italy next week with his head held high. Now we have momentum to move and improve legislation in the Senate and put it on President Obama's desk so he can go to December's international summit in Copenhagen with the full backing of the Congress and the American people."

Before the vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told her colleagues "we cannot hold back the future." She offered four words that she said represent the meaning of the legislation.

"Jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs," she said.
 
Companies will be required to purchase the emissions permits from the federal government, which in turn results in a sizeable revenue stream to the federal government. Much of the back room politicking that has occurred over the last few weeks regarding the Waxman-Markey bill has involved how this revenue stream will be allocated to government programs.  
 
But before any of this can go forward, the Senate has to vote to approve the measure as well.  And many industry groups oppose the measure.
 
James C. May, the president of the Air Transport Association of America, said, "We have strong concerns about the Waxman-Markey bill and its punitive one-size-fits-all approach. This cap-and-trade bill creates an onerous fuel tax on the airline industry."
 
In order to Greenify our planet, we are all going to have to work together.  Some businesses will struggle to bring themselves into alignment with these new environmentally friendly restrictions, but others will be born because of them.  The larger benefit will be to all of us and as such, we hope you'll support the Waxman-Markey bill and others like it by calling your representatives in Washington to encourage their vote for such issues.


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