The House on Friday night narrowly passed a sweeping energy and climate-change bill that supporters say could revolutionize the nation's industrial economy.
WASHINGTON — The House on Friday night narrowly passed a sweeping energy and climate-change bill that supporters say could revolutionize the nation’s industrial economy.
The 219-212 vote represented a major victory for President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., both of whom invested significant political capital in ensuring the passage of the measure. Obama’s administration and Democratic leaders in the House worked feverishly in the final hours before the vote to cement enough support for passage.
The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric-power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.
There were defections on both sides: 44 Democrats voted against the bill; eight Republicans voted for it.
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The measure goes next to the Senate, where it is expected to be extensively modified.
Obama has declared global warming and energy independence among his top priorities, and late Friday he hailed the vote, saying the House had put America on a path toward leading the way toward “creating a 21st-century global economy.”
Supporters said the legislation would stimulate the economy by creating “green” jobs, encourage investment in alternative sources of power and help wean the nation off its dependence on foreign oil.
Opponents said the bill would place a new tax on energy that would stunt economic growth, raise gas and electricity costs and do little to affect climate change globally.
By any marker, Friday made for a surprising achievement. Weeks ago, it appeared the legislation would fall victim to disagreements between environmentalists and industry, between lawmakers from rural and urban areas, and between moderate and progressive Democrats.
But this week, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, struck a deal to woo farm-state members. And Pelosi, in a gamble, decided to push the bill to the floor while a fragile consensus existed.
Obama, too, personally intervened, calling nervous, undecided lawmakers as the vote approached and deploying surrogates to twist arms.
The effort appeared to pay off. Late Friday, as the vote approached, key Democrats who had appeared to be against the bill lined up in last-minute support, allowing the squeaker of a win.
Before the scheduled vote, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, took to the floor and spoke at length in protest of a 300-page amendment that had been added to the 1,200-page bill earlier Friday over GOP objections.
Boehner leafed through the amendment page by page, ultimately speaking for an hour. Waxman accused him of stalling for time in the hope that some House members would either switch their votes or leave the chamber.
At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves.
The cap would grow tighter over the years, pushing up the price of emissions and presumably driving industry to find cleaner ways of producing energy.
While some environmentalists supported the legislation, others, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, opposed it. Industry officials were split, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers opposing the bill and some of the nation’s biggest corporations, including Dow Chemical and Ford, backing it.
Republican leaders called the legislation a national energy tax and predicted those who voted for the measure would pay a heavy price at the polls next year. “No matter how you doctor it or tailor it,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., “it is a tax.”
The late amendment included new authority for the federal government to speed construction of interstate power lines in the West and a variety of concessions to agriculture groups. Those concessions were key to winning the support of farm-district Democrats.
The amendment also included a provision that would impose a tariff on imports from nations such as China that fail to cut their emissions in concert with the United States.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was in Washington on Friday to meet Obama, strongly endorsed the bill even though it fell short of European goals for reducing the emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Merkel, a longtime advocate of strong curbs on emissions, has been pushing the United States to take a leading role in advance of the global-climate negotiations set for December in Copenhagen, Denmark.
After meeting with Obama, she said she had seen a “sea change” in the United States on climate policy.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.