U.S. House passes historic energy and environmental bill; Obama, solar industry execs laud action

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In a political victory for President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and their allies in Congress, one of the strongest pieces of energy and environmental legislation in American history narrowly won passage in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday. After a flurry of last-minute intense lobbying and political deal-making, HR 2454–the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES)–passed by a close 219-212 tally, which included 44 Democrats voting against the measure and 8 Republicans voting in favor of it.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to go through some potentially major revisions and may have a tough time being approved.

The Washington Post said ACES as “would establish national limits on greenhouse gases, create a complex trading system for emission permits, and provide incentives to alter how individuals and corporations use energy…The bill, if it became law, would lead to vast changes in the ways energy is made, sold, and used in the United States–putting new costs over time on electricity from fossil fuels and directing new billions to ‘clean’ power from sources such as the wind and the sun.”

“It would require U.S. emissions to decline 17% by 2020,” the WaPo article continued. “To make that happen, the bill would create an economy that trades in greenhouse gases. Polluters would be required to buy ‘credits’ to cover their emissions; Midwestern farmers, among others, could sell ‘offsets’ for things they didn’t emit; and Wall Street could turn those commodities into a new market.”

President Obama applauded the House’s passage of the bill in his weekly address, saying the legislation “will open the door to a clean energy economy and a better future for America.”

“The energy bill that passed the House will finally create a set of incentives that will spark a clean energy transformation in our economy,” said the U.S. chief executive. “It will spur the development of low carbon sources of energy–everything from wind, solar, and geothermal power to safer nuclear energy and cleaner coal. It will spur new energy savings, like the efficient windows and other materials that reduce heating costs in the winter and cooling costs in the summer. And most importantly, it will make possible the creation of millions of new jobs.”

“The list goes on and on, but the point is this:  this legislation will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy,” claimed President Obama later in his address. “That will lead to the creation of new businesses and entire new industries.  And that will lead to American jobs that pay well and cannot be outsourced.”

“I have often talked about the need to build a new foundation for economic growth so that we do not return to the endless cycle of bubble and bust that led us to this recession,” said the president. “Clean energy and the jobs it creates will be absolutely critical to this new foundation.”

Solar and other clean energy leaders also praised the U.S. House’s passage of ACES.

In a statement released Friday evening, SEIA President/CEO Rhone Resch said: “Today, the House passed the strongest measure in U.S. history to cut pollution while putting our economy back on track. Congress’ message was clear: It is time to diversify our energy resources and expand clean, pollution-free solar energy in the U.S.

“Congress also sent a clear signal to our financial markets and investors that there will be a premium on zero carbon energy production in the 21st century U.S. economy. This bill will give more Americans the opportunity to install solar on their homes and businesses, spur deployment of utility-scale solar while creating tens of thousands of high-paying domestic jobs and stable careers.

“The House passed bill includes provisions that will significantly brighten solar’s future, including a renewable energy mandate, safeguards to limit global warming pollution damage, new authority to get solar energy to markets, and authority for the federal government to enter 20-year solar contracts.

“While we are pleased by today’s historic vote, it is only a first step,” Resch added. “We look forward to working with the Senate to significantly strengthen their bill so Congress can send  President Obama the strongest possible clean energy bill.”

“Leveraging the collective experience at the state and international levels over the last decade, the climate bill is an impressive feat of legislative engineering that sets feasible near-term targets for GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions while embracing the importance of aggressive long-run goals,” commented Dan Adler, president of the California Clean Energy Fund, a nonprofit organization.

“The bill is comprehensive in its framework, balancing flexible market mechanisms with direct support for essential emerging technologies, and will prompt a reinvention in the energy industry that leads to job growth, increased investment, and crucial environmental protections,” he added.

Bryan Ashley, VP of Georgia-based solar-cell manufacturer Suniva, was part of a delegation that lobbied this week on Capitol Hill for critical provisions of the bill. He stated that “the House has taken an important first step on a road that will help the industry scale to a point at which we no longer need government incentives. I encourage the Senate to take up this legislation quickly and include a meaningful ‘American content’ provision that spurs further domestic innovation and helps keep manufacturing jobs here at home.”

Mike Splinter, chairman/CEO of solar equipment manufacturer Applied Materials, likened the bill’s passage to the decision made to “fund a space program and put a man on the moon in the ’60s,” calling ACES as “a true inflection point: the moment when the U.S. got serious about clean energy….The U.S. is stating unequivocally to the world that we want to be leaders when it comes to saving our climate.”

“Speaker Pelosi and chairmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey have shown tremendous leadership with their tireless work and leadership to bring this ‘Clean Deal’ legislation to fruition in the House,” Splinter’s statement continued. “They have helped to set the United States on a course of transformation to a low carbon economy, which we believe will create enormous economic opportunity in clean energy, including thousands of jobs, and drive an energy innovation revolution potentially bigger than the information and computing age.”

“While the cap and trade component of this bill is critical, the importance of the national standard for renewable energy generation should not be overlooked. It will take years to fully regulate carbon dioxide. In the meantime, this bill provides financing mechanisms that will increase the use of renewable energy immediately, curbing climate change emissions and spurring significant investment in the green economy now.”

“We are greatly encouraged by the House’s vote today and look forward to similar action by the Senate, with a goal to seeing legislation enacted this year,” Splinter concluded.

The comprehensive climate protection and clean energy bill, if passed in some form by the U.S. Senate and amended by both the House and Senate, would likely land on President Obama’s desk for signing later this year.

(CAPITOL HILL PHOTO BY TOM CHEYNEY)

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