A Glorious Saturday

08/06/2007 06:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Washington, DC -- After a nail biting week in which vote counts showed that the House of Representatives was torn between the old fossil fuel cartel that has always controlled energy policy in this city, and the beginning of a new energy future, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi masterfully divided her opponents and swept the table, with three decisive roll-call votes to move the country towards smart energy solutions.

First an amendment by Representatives Tom Udall and Todd Platts to require that 15% of every utility's power come from renewable energy by 2020 passed 220-190. Because of an extraordinary disinformation campaign by public utilities in the South, and because of the political power of utilities in those states, a large number of Democrats from the Southeast opposed renewable power, as did most Republicans, even those from states that have already established renewable energy goals more ambitious than those contained in Udall-Platt. But thirty Republicans, mostly moderates, ended up supporting clean electricity and putting Udall-Platt over the top. This vote was particularly critical because when the Senate passed its version of this energy bill, renewable energy was kept out by procedural maneuvers led by New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici. That means that, this fall, the House-Senate conferees will have the opportunity to marry the renewable energy standard passed by the House and the increased fuel efficiency standards approved by the Senate -- and thereby make significant progress on building a new energy economy and cutting global warming pollution.

The House victory was more surprising because Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, who wanted to keep renewable electricity out of this bill so that he could use it as a bargaining chip this fall in the second round of energy legislation, came out against Pelosi and added a few northern Democrats to the opposition she faced. But on final passage of the energy bill itself, Democrats re-united, and Pelosi again showed who is in control of the House floor. The vote was 241-172 in favor of the energy legislation, with 26 Republicans joining the Democratic majority and nine Democrats voting against the bill.

The key to this victory was unveiled on the next roll-call. Pelosi separated out her energy tax package, which was strongly opposed by the oil states because it removed some of the layers of subsidies they had received in the last Congress as a pay-off from the Tom Delay leadership. The tax package passed 221-189. There were 11 Democratic defections, but by orchestrating separate votes, Pelosi prevented a grand uniting of clean energy's various opponents -- oil, utilities, coal, and the Republican leadership.

Almost immediately, the White House began issuing veto threats over the entire bill, which now goes to conference with the Senate. But with the politics of energy moving against the carbon lobby week by week, the odds of a final presidential veto are diminishing rapidly.