House Passes Historic Climate Change Bill, Senate Action Needed to Secure Energy Block Grant Funding
By Judy Sheahan
July 13, 2009
The House of Representatives on June 26 passed the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act (HR 2454) by a vote of 219-212. This comprehensive climate change bill had 211 Democrats and eight Republicans voting for the bill with 44 Democrats voting against it. The House has never previously passed comprehensive climate change legislation and the action now moves to the Senate. Passage of climate change legislation is a priority of the Obama administration and The U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The House bill sets up a cap and trade system which includes mandatory limits on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions – 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, 42 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050; renewable energy portfolio standards for utilities (20 percent renewable energy and energy efficiency by 2020), building code efficiency standards, clean transportation provisions, and funding for state energy programs.
The bill does not contain provisions to provide direct funding for local governments including the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG), a program to assist local governments in implementing strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The EECBG is a top priority of the Conference of Mayors. Instead, the House bill would create State Energy and Environment Development (SEED) Accounts to provide state governments with annual resources to establish renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. There is a requirement that the states pass through 12.5 percent to “units of local government” but there is no specification as to how the states should distribute the money.
Conference of Mayors President Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels in a letter on June 24 to his colleagues stated, “As one of my first acts as President of USCM, I am calling on you to please email and/or call your House members ASAP and urge the following: Support this critical climate protection and energy bill; and if the opportunity arises on the floor, encourage them to articulate their support for the Conferees to work with the Senate and White House on redistributing at least a portion of the funding currently allocated to state energy programs for local implementation.”
Action now moves to the Senate where last year’s climate change bill included a dedicated funding source for the EECBG program. According to sources on the Hill, the Senate is expected to use the ACES Act as their “starting point.” It is a high priority for the Conference of Mayors to have the EECBG and other local government programs included in the Senate version of the climate change bill.
In his June 24 letter, Nickels outlined the reasons for supporting local approaches to comprehensive climate legislation. He wrote, “Cities house more than half of the world’s population and are responsible for more than 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Many of the solutions that will result in real, tangible reductions must be implemented at the local level. Therefore the resolution we passed in Providence also urged Congress to consider key amendments to the bill that would better support the efforts of local governments to make significant greenhouse gas reductions, including direct allocation of cap and trade revenues to local governments to support this critical work. Right now, funds are currently allocated to state energy programs, NOT to local governments. As we are seeing through the ARRA disbursement process, states are not only unprepared to implement climate protection programs, but they are also inefficient and inconsistent conduits for the distribution of federal dollars.”
The Conference of Mayors strongly urges mayors to contact their Senators and urge them to pass climate protection legislation, and include the EECBG in their bill.