Taking Sides on the Climate Bill

On Friday, June 26, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act by a squeaker, 219 to 212. The new bill—the first of its kind—sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation would require a enforced cap on the amount of heat-trapping gases utilities, manufacturers and other emitting industries are allowed to release beginning in 2012. Eight-five percent of the emission allowances would be given free of charge, while the remaining 15% would be up for auction. Over time, the emission limits would tighten, forcing industries to release less while simultaneously raising the price. By 2020, the cap would reduce emissions to 17% below 2005 levels. Voting on the bill was largely along party lines, with the majority of Democrats for and Republicans against. But with House members" concerns ranging from taxpayer cost, to the burden to farming and coal mining communities and the health of the planet, 44 Democrats and eight Republicans crossed the aisle.

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has a committed environmental record, but voted against the new climate bill.

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), voted against the bill. Kucinich's opposition was not in principle—he has a strong record of voting for environmental initiatives—but due to the details. He cited weak emission standards, and said the subsidies were a way to "give new life" to coal power plants. "The bill locks us into a framework that will fail," Kucinich said in a statement. "Science tells us that immediately is not soon enough to begin repairing the planet."

He went on to call the bill a "fragile compromise" and suggested the carbon markets would be susceptible to manipulation the same way Wall Street has been. Kucinich outlined a list of thirteen flaws he would like to see improved. Points of opposition included nuclear power, allowing trash incineration to be classified as "renewable energy" and setting the target atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million, instead of 350 ppm. He also called the carbon offsets, which are auctioned, an opportunity for industries to keep polluting. "Passing a weak bill today gives us weak environmental policy tomorrow," Kucinich said.

Others in the party voted for the bill, despite their reservations. Representative Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat from Texas who voted for the bill, said in a statement, "I struggled deeply about whether to support this flawed bill, but I finally determined that voting for it was my best hope for making it better."

Part of Doggett's opposition was over the cost to the taxpayers. He saw the financial gain going to lobbyists rather than American families. In the end, Doggett was swayed not only by the call for tighter greenhouse gas emissions but also by what he called "some of the most inane arguments I have ever heard" from global warming skeptics. He said the issue of climate change is a vital national security challenge, and believes that a flawed bill is better than no bill.

"I believe there is still some hope to make improvements once it gets out of the House," he said in a statement. "Better to have a seat at the table to try to influence the change that is needed in this legislation."

Finally, Doggett voted for the bill because he thinks Congress" actions will influence what happens in the Senate and ultimately, what happens globally with greenhouse gas emissions. "I"m voting "yes" in the hope that we will have a better bill and we will have the international accord that we so desperately need to deal with this critical matter," he said.