Waxman-Markey passes US House of Representatives

26 June 2009

The climate and energy bill proposed by Representatives Henry Waxman and Edward Markey passed the US House of Representatives on 26 June by a vote of 219 to 212.

The bill's passage is an historic milestone for US climate policy, as it would set the US on a path to reduce its emissions to 83% below 2005 levels by 2050 (equivalent to 80% below 1990 levels), and will enable the Obama administration to contribute tangibly to international negotiations this December in Copenhagen.

To secure enough votes to pass the bill, its sponsors were forced to make a number of compromises with fellow Democrats from fossil fuel and agricultural states, mostly involving how emission allowances would be distributed among different US regions and sectors. While these compromises may not be ideal, they do not outweigh the significance of the US taking this momentous first step towards addressing climate change. If the compromises were not made, and the bill failed, climate policy in the US would have fallen from the legislative agenda, and been postponed by months, and possibly much longer.

This was the first in a two-step process. The next step is for a similar bill to be introduced, voted on and passed in the US Senate. This is, by far, the greater of the two challenges (a Senate staff member privately described it as a "life and death struggle that will be played out Senator by Senator"). The Senate process is scheduled to begin at the end of July, and is expected to carry into next year.

The success of this process is of primary importance, as the US cannot commit to a binding global deal until 67 Senators approve it. This is where we will be focusing our work in the coming months, and we will continue to send updates as breakthroughs, like the one today, occur.

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