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George Bush and Dick Cheney must hate reading the newspapers these days. In the last few days, the US government has taken two of the critical steps towards serious action on climate change that the Bush administration fought off for eight years.

First, the White House issued an official government report documenting the major damage that climate change is already doing in and to the United States, especially to agriculture, coastal areas, access to water, and human health.  The Report emphasized the long-term importance of emission reduction and adaptation decisions that are being made now. And on Friday, the  US House of Representatives passed HR  2454, the 1500 page Waxman/Markey  American Clean Energy Security Act of 2009, to establish a greenhouse gas emission cap and trade regime for the United States.
The Bill falls far short of what Obama had called for during his election campaign. In the traditional world of politics, huge concessions have repeatedly had to be made, including over 300 pages of last minute changes to get the support of  conservative Democrats from swing states. The biggest change is that most emission allowances will be given away free to existing polluters, instead of being auctioned as Obama had hoped. Even so, the vote was very close:

  • Yes: 219
  • No: 212
  • According to  Representative Waxman, 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 ($90 billion in new investments by 2025), carbon capture and sequestration ($60 billion), electric and other advanced technology vehicles ($20 billion), and basic scientific research and development ($20 billion).
  • 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. Complementary measures in the legislation, such as investments in preventing tropical deforestation, will achieve significant additional reductions in carbon emissions.
  • Protects consumers from energy price increases. According to recent analyses from the Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency, the legislation will cost each household less than 50 cents per day in 2020 (not including energy efficiency savings).

Next Steps for Climate Change in Congress

The House Bill  now goes to the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chaired by Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) for markup.  Debate is expected to be fierce.

Boxer has announced plans to hold hearings prior to her Committee’s bill mark-up process in late July with work completed in early August.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has set a September 18 deadline for Senate committees with jurisdiction on climate legislation to complete their mark ups.  Senator Reid wants both the Senate and the House to pass climate legislation before the U.S. enters into international climate-change talks in Copenhagen this December. If they do, Canada will have no choice but to follow.

EPA Rulemaking to Move Forward

In the meantime, during July, the U.S. EPA is expected to issue its final “endangerment finding” and preliminary rulemaking and guidance on greenhouse gas reduction regulation.

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