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Key points of the climate-energy bill before Congress

Lawmakers craft a bill that will move the US to a far cleaner energy policy.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 4, 2009

First steps: If Congress passes the proposed climate-energy legislation, the US economy could move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. Click through the following images for graphics and more information on where carbon emissions come from and how the new legislation would impact the next 40 years.

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New climate-energy legislation advancing in Congress would mark the biggest shift in US energy policy in 30 years, thrusting the economy toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels.

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If the bill, which cleared a key House committee May 21, is approved by Congress, it would be the biggest step by the United States – the world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitter per capita – toward curbing climate change.

If President Obama signs the bill ahead of December climate talks in Copenhagen, as some suggest is possible, it would give the US a major role in shaping a multinational response to the climate problem.

Because stemming carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels is central to the climate conundrum, the new American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee addresses energy and climate in one bill. Here is a rundown of its key points:

What’s the bill’s aim?

The ACES bill focuses on the smokestacks that produce 85 percent of US greenhouse emissions. It follows a three-pronged path to shift the nation to a low-carbon economy by boosting energy efficiency, developing renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and curbing greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs).

Together, these are intended to cut US emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 – a compromise from the previously set 20 percent cut. That should put the nation on a path to reach 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 to help avoid the worst effects of global warming.

The bill is intended to jump- start a US push into energy-efficient technologies and grow green jobs, while boosting national security by shifting the US vehicle fleet toward use of domestic electricity instead of imported oil.

How would this be accomplished?

The main mechanism would limit emissions using a market-based “cap-and-trade” system for industrial carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters.

Beginning in 2012, a national “cap” – or total maximum CO2 emissions – would be set and then ratcheted downward annually.

Electric utilities, cement and steel plants, and others would need one “allowance” for every ton of CO2 sent up smokestacks. Power plants emit about 2.4 billion tons of CO2 annually – nearly 40 percent of total US greenhouse-gas emissions.

What about renewable energy?

A key part of the bill is a national renewable-energy standard combined with an energy-efficiency standard. US electric utilities would have to get 20 percent of their power from a combination of renewable sources (15 percent) and energy efficiency (5 percent) by 2020. But in a major compromise, governors could petition to increase the amount of energy efficiency up to 8 percent, with just 12 percent coming from renewables. Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the Democratic co-authors of the bill, accepted the lesser standard to win support of Democrats from states where coal-fired power plants predominate.