House Passes Milestone Climate Change Bill

Vote on cap-and-trade bill marks major movement in energy policy debate.

June 26, 2009 — -- The House of Representatives passed a major climate change bill today, perhaps signaling a significant advance in the country's energy policy debate.

"Today the House of Representatives took historic action with the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act," President Obama said in praise of the bill's passage. "It's a bold and necessary step that holds the promise of creating new industries and millions of new jobs, decreasing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil."

"Now it's up to the Senate to take the next step," he added.

Supporters this evening claimed the bill would combat global warming and give a much needed overhaul to U.S. energy policy. But opponents portrayed it as the wrong bill at the wrong time, adding that it was far outside what mainstream Americans wanted and predicting it would drive jobs to other countries.

The bill passed with a 219 to 212 vote after Democrats scurried to bring it to a vote today before the July 4 congressional recess. In a sign of how close they anticipated the results, Democrats called Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-Mass., out of rehab so that he could cast his vote on the Hill.

The measure now heads to the U.S. Senate where it faces a steep uphill battle based on concerns that it will raise energy costs and put millions of Americans out of work.

President Obama spoke earlier today about the importance of the bill with reporters, and along with his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and former vice president Al Gore, spent much of the day talking by phone with members of Congress to rally support for the legislation -- the biggest test of the Obama agenda since the stimulus vote in February. The "cap-and-trade" bill would mandate a nationwide system to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"Europe, in many ways over the last several years, has moved more rapidly than the United States on addressing this issue," President Obama said today at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"I'm the first one to acknowledge that the United States over the last several years has not been where we need to be," Obama said. "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."

According to the legislation, companies like power plants would be permitted to emit only a certain amount of the gases. The idea is that in sum those companies would emit less carbon dioxide than is currently released. Each company's allotted emissions amount could be traded, bought and sold with other companies -- so long as the country's overall greenhouse gas emissions goes down.

Earlier this morning the House briefly set aside the measure to pay tribute to to Michael Jackson.

It then got back to considering the ramifications of the massive bill, about 1,400 pages, that would require the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Today House Republican Leader John Boehner called the bill "a bureaucratic nightmare." He attempted the House-version of a filibuster to slow down the process by reading the entire bill. Technically, he has the right to do so before a vote can be held.

"This is a tax on anyone who drives a car, buys an American-made product, flips on a light switch," Boehner said. "And that -- there's no other way to say it other than it's a new tax that will affect every single American."

"There are huge costs and consequences of this bill," echoed Rep. Eric Cantor, R- Va. "There will be millions of jobs lost due to the imposition of a national energy tax on small businesses and working families."

Today Lynn Jenkins, who grew up on a dairy farm near Holton, Kan., joined the Republican news conference to say rural communities will be hit hardest.

"In addition to driving more, many of us in the heartland rely on farmers and ranchers to be the economic backbone of the local economies," Jenkins said. "From the John Deere dealership, the local grain co-op, mom-and-pop diners, and even the livestock exchange, this national energy tax will be extremely harmful to farmers, ranchers, and associated small businesses throughout the Midwest."

Obama and Gore Support Energy Bill

On Thursday, Obama called on Congress to get moving on the legislation as the White House tasked its energy and congressional teams with working the phones to convince lawmakers the plan is a good idea.

"We've seen our reliance on fossil fuels jeopardize our national security," Obama said. "We've seen it pollute the air we breathe and endanger our planet. And most of all, we've seen that others countries realize a critical truth: The nation that leads in the creation of a clear energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy."

But widely divergent opinions of the bill became clear this week.

"It's important for us to invest in new technologies to keep America No. 1 in innovation and new green technologies, to create millions of new jobs in this new green economy," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., voicing her support for the measure. "It's a jobs bill."

Pelosi said the measure would lessen dependence on foreign oil, reduce air pollution and keep the U.S. on the technological edge.

But Boehner, squaring off at a separate news conference, said the bill Democrats wrote would force small-business owners, their workers and families to pay more for electricity, gasoline and other high-energy products.

Boehner predicted the bill could cause as many as 2.7 million Americans to lose their jobs if U.S. industries decide to ship jobs overseas to countries like India and China, where environmental standards are less rigorous.

"When it comes to energy, Washington Democrats, I think, are poised to make matters worse by imposing a job-killing energy tax, courtesy of Speaker Pelosi," he said.

The bill would require the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

On Thursday, former Vice President Al Gore, who has championed efforts to curb global warming, was expected on Capitol Hill to rally for the bill. That appearance was canceled.

Instead, Gore called two dozen or so undecided Democrats from Tennessee on the phone to convince them to vote for the measure.

Thursday a top House Democrat told ABC News, "We don't have the votes yet" but added, "We think we'll get there."

If the bill passes the House, it is expected to have a tough time passing the Senate.

ABC News' Ned Potter, Jake Tapper, Sunlen Miller and Kate Barrett contributed to this report.