U.S. House Passes First Climate Bill in Nearly a Decade

(Bloomberg) -- The House approved its first climate change bill in nearly a decade Thursday, legislation that would prevent President Donald Trump from making good on his vow to withdraw from an international agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Approved by a 231-190 vote, H.R. 9 has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate and has provoked a veto threat from the White House. No Democrats voted against the measure and three Republicans voted in favor.

The measure, which would bar the Trump administration from using any taxpayer funds to withdraw from the Paris climate accord signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2015, represents an attempt by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other party leaders to unify Democrats on a global warming response, an issue that has strife within the party over how to respond to the problem.

“H.R. 9 will not solve climate change. The first step in any journey does not get you there, but without it, you get nowhere,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, said during floor remarks on the legislation. “House Democrats are laying down a marker today that we are committed to tackling this challenge with the seriousness it deserves.”

In addition to prohibiting Trump from pulling out of the climate agreement, under which the U.S. promised to reduce carbon pollution by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, the bill by Florida Representative Kathy Castor, requires the Trump administration to craft a plan to meet the greenhouse gas reductions under the accord.

The measure still didn’t satisfy some progressive groups who have been pushing the party to take more aggressive action in combating climate change.

“Given all that’s known about the severity of the climate crisis we face, and the urgent, aggressive action required to stem it, this legislation is merely symbolic,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, an environmental group that is advocating for bans on oil and gas exports and a halt to drilling and fracking on federal land. “The terms of the Paris accord aren’t low-hanging fruit, they’re fruit that has fallen to the ground and begun to rot.”

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the author of the progressive proposal known as the Green New Deal that calls for ambitious climate goals such as achieving 100 percent clean energy and net-zero carbon emissions co-sponsored the legislation but said she “can certainly get” the criticism of the measure.

“I certainly share in the sentiment that we aren’t doing enough and we aren’t seeing enough on either side of the aisle -- just, as a body, Congress isn’t doing enough,” she said in an interview where she also cautioned that moving on Obama-era policies “is not reflective of action that is necessary for now in the world of today.”

Democratic leaders, for their part, have said additional climate measures will be brought forward, but they have yet to outline what those next steps will be. Instead they have pointed to a special select committee established by Pelosi to study the issue and then make recommendations on to address the issue next year. Ideas under consideration range from a carbon tax to requiring utilities to generate electricity using renewable energy and other environmentally friendly sources of power.

“We expect that bold new and innovative ideas on addressing our climate crisis are going to be put forward in short order,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters.

An environmentally focused group of business leaders called Environmental Entrepreneurs called the measure’s passes “a crucial step in reestablishing the leadership America ceded when the president began the process of withdrawing us from the Paris Agreement.”

“We need to do much more – but this is a clear market signal that to investors that we are serious about deploying clean energy and vehicles, competing internationally in those sectors – and growing jobs,” Grant Carlisle, director of advocacy for the group, said in a statement.

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