WASHINGTON – In one of the narrowest votes in its recent history, the House of Representatives on Friday evening passed a sweeping energy and climate-change bill that supporters say could revolutionize the nation’s industrial economy.
The 219-212 vote represented a major victory for President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., both of whom invested significant political capital in ensuring the success of the ambitious measure. Obama’s administration and Democratic leaders in the House worked feverishly in the final hours before the vote to cement enough support for passage.
“This is a transformative moment,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., shortly before the final vote. “This is a moment to build a clean energy future for our country. This is a moment to create jobs. This is a moment to take on, at long last, a defining challenge of our time: global warming.”
There were defections on both sides: 44 Democrats voted against the bill; eight Republicans voted for it.
It goes next to the Senate, where it is expected to be extensively modified.
Supporters say the legislation would stimulate the economy by creating new “green” jobs, encourage investment in alternative sources of power and help wean the nation off its dependence on foreign oil.
Opponents say the bill would place a new tax on energy that would stunt economic growth, raise gas and electricity costs and do little to affect climate change globally.
By any marker, Friday made for a surprising achievement. Weeks ago, it appeared the legislation would fall victim to disagreements between environmentalists and industry, between lawmakers from rural and urban areas, and between moderate and progressive Democrats.
But this week, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, struck a deal to woo farm-state members. And Pelosi, in a gamble, decided to push the bill to the floor while a fragile consensus existed.
Obama, too, personally intervened, calling undecided lawmakers as the vote approached and deploying surrogates to twist arms.
The effort appeared to pay off. Late Friday, as the vote approached, key Democrats who had appeared to be against the bill lined up in last-minute support, allowing the squeaker of a win.
Before the scheduled vote, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, took the floor and spoke at length in protest of a 300-page amendment that had been added to the 1,200-page bill early Friday morning over GOP objections.
Boehner leafed through the amendment page by page, ultimately speaking for an hour. Waxman accused him of stalling for time in the hope that some House members would either switch their votes or leave the chamber.
The bill would set a declining cap on the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming. It aims to cut those emissions by more than 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050.
The legislation would force major emitters, such as power plants and factories, to obtain permits for the emissions they produce or “offset” them by investing in carbon-reducing projects such as tree-planting.
Other key features of the legislation include mandates for renewable electricity use and strict energy-efficiency requirements. It calls for billions of dollars to fund research into technology to capture the carbon emissions from coal and store them underground.
The late amendment included new authority for the federal government to speed construction of interstate power lines in the West and a variety of concessions to agriculture groups. Those concessions were key to winning the support of farm-district Democrats.
The amendment also included a provision that would impose a tariff on imports from nations, such as China, that fail to cut their emissions in concert with the United States. Business groups Friday were already lining up against the language, urging that it be struck in the Senate.