WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation on Friday intended to address global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy.
The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.
The bill’s passage, by 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats voting against it, also established a marker for the United States when international negotiations on a new climate change treaty begin later this year.
At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves. The cap would grow tighter over the years, pushing up the price of emissions and presumably driving industry to find cleaner ways of making energy.
President Obama hailed the House passage of the bill as “a bold and necessary step.” He said in a statement that he looked forward to Senate action that would send a bill to his desk “so that we can say, at long last, that this was the moment when we decided to confront America’s energy challenge and reclaim America’s future.”
As difficult as House passage proved, it is just the beginning of the energy and climate debate in Congress. The issue now moves to the Senate, where political divisions and regional differences are even more stark.
Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, a co-sponsor of the bill, called the vote a “decisive and historic action” that would position the United States as a leader in energy efficiency and technology.
But the legislation, a patchwork of compromises, falls far short of what many European governments and environmentalists have said is needed to avert the worst effects of global warming. And it pitted liberal Democrats from the East and West Coasts against more conservative Democrats from areas dependent on coal for electricity and on heavy manufacturing for jobs.
While some environmentalists enthusiastically supported the legislation, others, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, opposed it. Industry officials were split, with the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers opposing the bill and some of the nation’s biggest corporations, including Dow Chemical and Ford, backing it.
Republican leaders called the legislation a national energy tax and predicted that those who voted for the measure would pay a heavy price at the polls next year.
“No matter how you doctor it or tailor it,” said Representative Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania, “it is a tax.”
Only eight Republicans voted for the bill, which runs to more than 1,300 pages.
Representative John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, stalled the vote by using his privilege as a party leader to consume just over an hour by reading from a 300-page amendment added in the early hours of Friday.
Apart from its domestic implications, the legislation represents a first step toward measurable cuts in carbon dioxide emissions that administration officials can point to when the United States joins other nations in negotiating a new global climate change treaty later this year. For nearly 20 years, the United States has resisted mandatory limits on heat-trapping emissions.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was in Washington on Friday to meet with Mr. Obama, strongly endorsed the bill even though it fell short of European goals for reducing the emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Mrs. Merkel, a longtime advocate of strong curbs on emissions, has been pushing the United States to take a leading role before the climate negotiations, set for December in Copenhagen.
After meeting with Mr. Obama, she said she had seen a “sea change” in the United States on climate policy that she could not have imagined a year ago when President George W. Bush was in office.
The House legislation reflects a series of concessions necessary to attract the support of Democrats from different regions and with different ideologies. In the months of horse-trading before the vote Friday, the bill’s targets for emissions of heat-trapping gases were weakened, its mandate for renewable electricity was scaled back, and incentives for industries were sweetened.
The bill’s sponsors were making deals on the House floor right up until the time of the vote. They set aside money for new energy research and a hurricane study center in Florida.
The final bill has a goal of reducing greenhouse gases in the United States to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by midcentury.
When the program is scheduled to begin, in 2012, the estimated price of a permit to emit a ton of carbon dioxide will be about $13. That is projected to rise steadily as emission limits come down, but the bill contains a provision to prevent costs from rising too quickly in any one year.
The bill would grant a majority of the permits free in the early years of the program, to keep costs low. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the average American household would pay an additional $175 a year in energy costs by 2020 as a result of the provision, while the poorest households would receive rebates that would lower their annual energy costs by $40.
Several House members expressed concern about the market to be created in carbon allowances, saying it posed the same risks as those in markets in other kinds of derivatives. Regulation of such markets would be divided among the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The bill also sets a national standard of 20 percent for the production of renewable electricity by 2020, although a third of that could be met with efficiency measures rather than renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal power.
It also devotes billions of dollars to new energy projects and subsidies for low-carbon agricultural practices, research on cleaner coal and electric vehicle development.
Mr. Gore, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming, posted an appeal on his blog for passage of the legislation.
“This bill doesn’t solve every problem,” Mr. Gore said, “but passage today means that we build momentum for the debate coming up in the Senate and negotiations for the treaty talks in December which will put in place a global solution to the climate crisis. There is no backup plan.”
By JOHN M. BRODER
Courtesy of NYtimes.com