WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama scored a major victory on Friday when the House of Representatives passed legislation to slash industrial pollution that is blamed for global warming.
The Democratic-controlled House passed the climate change bill, a top priority for Obama, by a vote of 219-212. As has become routine on major bills in Congress this year, the vote was partisan, with only eight Republicans joining Democrats for the bill. Forty-four Democrats voted against it.
Climate change legislation still must get through the Senate. Senators were expected to try to write their own version but prospects for this year were uncertain.
After the House vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he hoped the Senate can pass a bill “this fall.”
Obama praised the House for taking “historic action” and urged the Senate to act. “It’s a bold and necessary step that holds the promise of creating new industries and millions of new jobs, decreasing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil,” Obama said.
With the House action, Obama will be able to tout significant progress toward tackling global warming after years of foreign countries criticizing Washington for not participating in international efforts.
The bill requires that large U.S. companies, including utilities, oil refiners, manufacturers and others, reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases associated with global warming by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, from 2005 levels.
They would do so by phasing in the use of cleaner alternative energy than high-polluting oil and coal.
At the core of the bill, which is around 1,500 pages long, is a “cap and trade” program designed to achieve the emissions reductions by industry.
Under the plan, the government would issue a declining number of pollution permits to companies, which could sell those permits to each other as needed.
‘BIGGEST JOB-KILLING BILL’
Republicans said the bill was a behemoth that would neither effectively help the environment nor improve an economy reeling from a deep recession.
House Republican leader John Boehner called the measure “the biggest job-killing bill that has ever been on the floor of the House of Representatives.”
Representative Joe Barton, the senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee that played a key role in the bill, said it would set unrealistic targets for cutting carbon pollution. “You would have to reduce emissions in the United States to the level that we had in 1910,” Barton said.
Both predicted higher prices for energy and other consumer goods and more U.S. jobs being shipped abroad as companies try to avoid the tough pollution-control requirements. Democrats said consumers mostly would be protected from price hikes.
During House debate, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, the chief sponsor of the bill, said, “The scientists are telling us there’s an overwhelming consensus ... global warming is real and it’s moving very rapidly.”
Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey, who wrote the bill with Waxman, added, “When it becomes law, and it will, for the first time in the history ... of our country we will put enforceable limits on global warming pollution.”
Earlier in the day, Obama said the United States also had to work with developing countries to ensure their “obligations are clear” on fighting global warming.
China and the United States are leading carbon polluters.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said in a statement, “Although this bill is not perfect, it is a significant step in the national fight against climate change and it puts the United States in a position of leadership in international climate negotiations that must produce a global solution to this global problem.”
California is recognized as having the most aggressive plan to fight global warming in the United States.
Some major environmental groups rallied around the bill, while others said it will need to be strengthened.
“This bill is the most important environmental and energy legislation in the history of our country,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Even though climate change — with its threat to polar ice caps and animal and plant species — is a global problem, much of the debate in Congress broke along regional geography, pitting Midwestern and Southern states heavily reliant on dirty coal against coastal areas, where cleaner energies are more available.
Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington and Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Editing by Will Dunham