Hawaii lawmakers back massive climate bill in close vote
By John Yaukey
Advertiser Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Both of Hawaii’s House lawmakers helped their fellow Democrats pass a sweeping climate-change bill today that would limit pollution blamed for global warming.
If passed and ultimately enacted, the bill would touch virtually all consumers one way or another, if only through the price of energy.
The House legislation would limit the pollution blamed for global warming with, among other measures, a controversial market-based system for trading pollution allowances, called cap-and-trade.
The bill, a top priority for President Barack Obama, passed 219-212.
Earlier in the week, Obama called Rep. Neil Abercrombie to make sure he was on board. While the Hawaii Democrat backs the legislation, he said it’s just a start, and he called for continued emphasis on energy independence, especially through fuels made with waste from agriculture, industry, mining, transportation, construction and deforestation.
“I’ve made my position very clear,” Abercrombie said today. “Energy independence is life and death for Hawaii’s economic future and for United States national security interests. The (climate-energy) bill is not perfect, but it does begin to move the country toward a clean, green economy.”
Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono applauded the legislation as long-overdue relief for consumers, even though it could cost them in the short term.
“The nation has made little progress in the last eight years in improving energy efficiency and controlling energy prices,” she said. “These price increases have impacted American families to the tune of thousands of dollars per year in higher energy costs. This legislation provides direct relief to consumers and businesses to mitigate these costs.”
The Senate is expected to take up energy and climate legislation in the summer.
Republican opponents of the legislation argue it would drive up electricity and gas prices. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill could cost the average household about $175 annually by 2020. Some Republicans say the cost would be higher.
“This bill is a jobs killer,” said Rep. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., who serves on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “This will have real effects for real people.”
Bill supporters say it would create a new class of “green” jobs while saving the environment and helping the nation reduce its dependence on foreign oil.
“Continuing to do what we’ve been doing is just not a viable option, either to control energy prices or to deal with energy security,” Abercrombie said.
Democratic opponents fear it would unfairly burden states dependent on agriculture and coal.
The bill calls for:
— Reducing carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, and 80 percent by 2050. This would be done largely through a cap-and-trade program for pollution permits that could be bought and sold on an exchange.
— Requiring utilities to produce as much as 20 percent of their electricity through renewable energy sources or through increasing efficiency.
— Investing in new clean-energy technologies, including systems that would capture and store carbon, a leading greenhouse gas.
— Writing new energy-saving standards for buildings and appliances.
— Imposing tighter performance standards on new coal-fired power plants.
— Allowing companies to meet emission targets by investing in projects elsewhere such as tree planting and forest conservation.
The next round of debate on the bill will be in the Senate, where passage will be more difficult because of the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome tactics to block a bill.