After weeks of intensive debate, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the American Clean Energy and Security Act (Act) by a vote of 33-25 on May 21. The bill proposes to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an estimated 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, and about 80% by 2050, while promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency.  

The extensive deliberations to pass the bill out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee resulted in several significant amendments to the original text of the proposed Act, particularly with respect to its international strength in the wake of the highly anticipated negotiations at the December 2009 Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) in Copenhagen. In addition to lowering U.S. goals for GHG emissions cuts from 20% to 17%, for example, critics claim the amended legislation also falls short of what is needed for international clean technology cooperation and international adaptation assistance. In addition, although the EU expects all industrialized countries to cut GHGs an average 30% over 30 years, the Act calls for a 5% cut by American industry during the period. The revised draft also provides that, in a proposed cap-and-trade system, the majority of allowances will be allocated to the electricity sector and energy-intensive industries, which has created some controversy.  

Nonetheless, many are still optimistic about the passage of a strong climate and energy bill. Those who have given the proposed bill a vote of confidence attribute that confidence, in part, to its similarities to the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), enacted and signed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. AB 32 established California as a leader in U.S. GHG emissions mitigation during a period when the Federal government resisted action; it serves as “umbrella” legislation to coordinate statewide climate and renewable energy programs, with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) acting as lead agency.

Akin to AB 32, the Act is structured as comprehensive climate and energy legislation, contemplating regional, national and international trading of carbon credits through a cap-and-trade program, renewable energy deployment by way of mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), as well as GHG mitigation beyond cap-and-trade and renewable energy, such as energy conservation and promotion of Smart Grid development and “green” buildings. Some of the programs and GHG mitigation measures being tested and implemented under AB 32 may provide valuable lessons to the Federal government in shaping a federal climate bill, passing it through the House and the Senate, and during regulatory implementation by relevant federal agencies.  

The bill is expected to go to the full House before the August Congressional recess. It likely will not go to the Senate until September, at the earliest.