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Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly said that the climate bill co-sponsored by Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey would give away free emission allowances to encourage superconductor makers and algae-based biofuel producers. An amendment to the bill provides loan guarantees and grants to encourage the use of superconductor electricity transmission lines. Algae is encouraged in the bill under definitions of biomass and renewable fuels.

In Close Vote, House Passes Climate Bill

President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 25, 2009, to speak in the Rose Garden on the passage of the energy bill. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 25, 2009, to speak in the Rose Garden on the passage of the energy bill. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais - AP)
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By Steven Mufson, David A. Fahrenthold and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 27, 2009

The House narrowly passed an ambitious climate bill yesterday that 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.

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The bill passed 219 to 212 after a furious lobbying push by the White House and party leaders won over farm-state Democrats who had complained that it was too costly, and liberals who wondered if it was too watered down to work. Even after that effort, 44 Democrats voted against the legislation.

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 percent by 2020. 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.

Delaying the vote, Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke for about an hour, reading long sections of a 300-page amendment unveiled at 3 a.m. yesterday.

When the bill finally passed, with eight Republicans voting yes, supporters praised it as a major milestone in the fight to slow climate change. Earlier attempts to cap emissions had stalled in Congress; this bill's surprisingly swift passage in the House marked a political victory for President Obama and Democratic leaders.

Obama had made the bill one of his two major domestic priorities, along with health-care reform. And this week he stepped in, lobbying some undecided lawmakers, playing down the costs to consumers and promoting the measure as a "jobs bill" that would create opportunities in the renewable-energy and energy-efficiency sectors.

One of the bill's co-sponsors, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), said: "The American people wanted change in our energy and climate policy. And this is the change that the people are overwhelmingly asking for." He called it "the most important energy and environment bill in the history of our country."

The drive to regulate greenhouse gases now moves to the Senate, where passing climate legislation could prove more difficult.

House conservatives blasted the more than 1,300-page bill, saying it would add crushing costs to energy and ship millions of jobs to countries such as China that do not have climate regulations. They also said there was a lack of clarity in the bill's provision to create carbon offsets, certificates in which companies in the United States and overseas could claim credit for avoiding emissions or taking them out of the air.

"In the midst of the worst recession in a generation, this administration and this majority in Congress are prepared to pass a national energy tax," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.).

The heart of the bill is a "cap" that would lower greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 83 percent below those levels by 2050. It would enforce the cap by requiring many sources of such pollution, including power plants, factories and oil refineries, to amass buyable, sellable credits equal to their emissions.


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