Climate bill moves to Senate

Coalitions of labor and environmental groups cheered the passage of the historic climate change legislation in the House last month. But the hard work for a similar bill in the Senate has just begun, they added.

The version of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) that passed in the House sets a national renewable electricity standard that requires energy utilities to acquire six percent of electricity from renewable sources like solar, wind and biomass within two year. They would be mandated to bump this total up to 15 percent by 2025.

The bill also creates a cap-and-trade system that would require large polluters to purchase permits on carbon emissions that scientists say cause global warming and related environmental impacts. Administered by the Department of Agriculture, this system would ultimately reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next four decades.

The money raised in the cap-and-trade system would fund investments in developing the renewable energy sector and providing cost offsets to working families that may see rising energy costs. Supporters of the bill note that these provisions will create 'green jobs' in a revitalized manufacturing sector that produces things like solar panels, wind turbines and hybrid vehicles.

The cap-and-trade system also would provide incentives to big polluters to change their practices and adopt clean alternatives that reduce pollution, supporters point out.

During the legislative process media reports indicated that some changes to the bill helped provide the support it needed to pass. An amendment to the bill that would target US-based companies for special subsidies to create green jobs helped garner enough votes for final passage, according to the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups and labor unions.

Phil Angelides, chair of the Apollo Aliance, said, 'In addition to creating and keeping jobs in America, investments in domestic manufacturing will allow manufacturers across the country to tap into clean and efficient energy markets.' The provision, known as the IMPACT bill, has also been introduced in the Senate, and the Apollo Alliance has called for its inclusion in the Senate bill.

President Obama has signaled some opposition to this provision, calling it a restriction on trade. So far he has not stated he would veto a bill with such a provision if it gets to his desk, however.

MoveOn.org launched a national campaign to win passage of ACES. Thousands of its members organized local house parties, town halls and congressional office visits across the country in support of the bill. Many local MoveOn.org groups also gathered thousands of signatures of small business owners in support of the measure and presented to members of Congress.

Other important provisions in the bill would fund job training and target hard-hit areas of the country for new investments to create jobs in the renewable energy sector.

The Senate version of the bill includes much weaker provisions that fall far short of goals needed to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, say critics. The Sierra Club, for example, addressed some of these problems in a recent statement expressing its opposition to the Senate bill.

The Senate bill would reduced the renewable energy standard established in the House bill and may even provide new government subsidies to the coal and nuclear power industries. The Senate bill, the Sierra Club said, 'falls far short of what President Obama has called for in order to repower America with renewable energy, create millions of new clean energy jobs, and fight global warming.'

The bill would also weaken the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to enforce the Clean Air Act, critics charged.

Green America, a broad organization of individuals and business owners, has urged passage of a Senate bill with higher and faster renewable energy standards and a stronger commitment to reducing carbon emissions. The final product should also provide additional funds to help businesses transition to renewable energy sources. The Senate bill should aim to reduce emissions by 25 percent by the end of the next decade, the organization stated recently.

Todd Larsen, Green America's director of corporate responsibility, praised passage of ACES in the House, as 'a start.' But, he added, 'We look to the Senate to really step up to the plate. The future of our economy and our society hangs in the balance.'

A vote on the Senate bill is expected this fall. Supporters of a strengthened bill point out that with a 60-vote majority in the Senate conservative compromises are far less necessary.