The Waxman-Markey bill, an integral piece of legislation which will help fight global warming, has passed the House and only needs Senate approval before being signed into law by President Barack Obama. The bill proposes the most aggressive carbon cutting plan to date, with provisions to create a "carbon market", which should help to create new jobs and a new section of the economy.
While the bill will have a major impact, its power was lessened by a series of concessions. In order to pass the bill crafted by Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Democrats had to woo less enthusiastic members of their party and Republicans with cash incentives.
They packed the bill with billions in agriculture and forest industry funding. Incentives for automakers, steel companies, natural gas drillers, refiners, universities and real estate agents all were also packed in. A number of smaller pet projects, such as $50 million hurricane research center for a freshman lawmaker from Florida, were also added.
The real weakening, though, came in the form of big concessions to the utility companies. They received tens of billions of dollars in free pollution permits as an assurance that they could continue to build and operate coal-burning plants. They also were promised billions more in federal funding to deploy carbon-capture technologies, making "dirty" coal plants cleaner.
Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, approved of the deal cutting, though he disliked the bill. He stated, "It is unprecedented, but at least it's transparent."
Despite the concession the bill is valuable for its symbolism, if a bit weak on the issues -- it is the first U.S. bill to look to regulate the manmade gases that a majority of scientists worldwide blame for global warming. The bill will require 15 percent of U.S. power to come from alternative sources by 2020.
The bill will cap emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. Polluting companies can then trade cash for credits held by other companies. The government will give away 85 percent of the emissions credits at the start of the program and will sell the remaining 15 percent as the program kicks off. This scheme has been dubbed "cap and trade". President Obama says that it has the potential to create new jobs and jump-start the lagging economy.
President Obama has praised the bill, stating, "I think that finding the right balance between providing new incentives to businesses, but not giving away the store, is always an art; it's not a science because it's never precise."