Thursday, December 6, 2007

Congress passes global warming bill

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington

Guardian Unlimited

Congress yesterday defied the threat of a presidential veto and passed the first legislation aimed at curbing global warming, voting to impose higher automobile fuel standards for the first time in three decades.

The measure, the first bill since the Democrats took control of Congress a year ago, passed by 235-181 and would require a 40% increase in in fuel efficiency for new cars by 2020.

The White House immediately said it would veto the measure. "This is a misguided approach," a statement from the White House said last night.

The hostile response belies recent claims by the White House on the eve of the Bali conference that president George Bush was serious about the dangers of climate change.

It raises further doubts about a separate bill that emerged from the Senate's environment committee on Wednesday which seeks to impose the first mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and factories.

Democrats have made climate change legislation one of the key goals in Congress - to the extent of insisting that the Christmas tree use energy efficient light bulbs.

Yesterday's bill could be brought to a vote in the Senate as early as Saturday. The vote is expected to be close, and passage could depend on the Democrats' willingness to drop a repeal of billions of dollars in tax breaks for big oil companies.

Even so, the bill marks the first time that Congress has intervened on fuel efficiency since the standards were first established in 1975, and comes amid growing popular anger in America at rising petrol prices and imported fuel.

In addition to imposing a 35mpg standard on cars, the bill would require power companies to generate 15% of their energy from renewable sources such as wind or solar power by 2020.

It would encourage the use of energy efficient light bulbs - in effect phasing out incandescent bulbs - pay for training for 'green collar' jobs, and offer small monthly stipends to people who ride their bicycles to work. It also calls for tax incentives to encourage the use of ethanol as a motor fuel.

Environmental thinktanks have said the bill would reduce energy use by almost 8% by 2030, and carbon dioxide emissions by 10%.

"This bill is really a signal to Opec that we mean business, and it is a signal to the rest of the world that we are serious about global warming," Ed Markey, a Democratic member of Congress from Massachusetts and chairman of the committee on energy independence, told the House.

However, the house bill risks encountering further opposition in Congress because it would roll back $13bn in tax breaks for the five largest oil companies and divert the money to research into cleaner energy sources and hybrid cars.

The proposed repeal was singled out by the White House in its statement yesterday. "The administration strongly opposes using the federal tax code to single out specific industries for punitive treatment," the statement said.

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