12/07/2007 10:49 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Really Big Step Forward

The House of Representatives yesterday took a tremendous step forward towards a smart energy future for America. On a vote of 255-181, the House passed energy legislation that, by 2020, would save consumers $22 billion at the gas pump, up to $18 billion on their home energy bills, create nearly a million new manufacturing jobs, cut our oil addiction by 1.1 million barrels every day, and make real progress in cutting our global warming emissions. The bill will raise fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon in 2020; require that we get 15 percent of our electricity from clean, renewable sources like wind, solar, and biomass; mandate a massive increase in homegrown biofuels, including advanced cellulosic ethanol; and provide over $20 billion for clean energy, green cars, energy efficiency and other staples of the new energy economy -- all without any new deficit spending.

In January, Speaker Pelosi promised to deliver energy legislation that would put us on the road toward a new, clean energy future. The energy bill that the House passed today not only puts us on that road but pushes the accelerator to the floor. It is a dramatic pivot away from the failed energy policies of the past and sets the stage for the Senate to flip the switch on America's new energy future.

It is a bill of firsts: the first increase in fuel economy standards in more than three decades, the first national requirement for renewable energy, the first environmentally sensitive mandate for homegrown biofuels, and the first energy bill to provide billions for clean energy instead of shoveling subsidies to Big Oil and other polluters.

And it came only a few hours after the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed out comprehensive global warming legislation that, while far short of what we need to enact, represents a historic first step in having Congress take global warming seriously and act to have the US rejoin the world. The legislation, by Senators Lieberman and Warner, would require a 70 percent reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, progress towards, but still far short of, the scientifically established target of at least an 80 percent reduction. It would require those who emit greenhouse pollutants to pay for some of the permits they use, but an amendment by Senator Hilary Clinton to require a much more effective and fair system of auctioning all permits was rejected. It took 9 1/2 hours to report the bill and, in the end, only one Republican, Virginia Senator John Warner, voted for it.

(Only a year ago, "cap and auction," the Sierra Club's preferred approach to economy wide carbon limits, was a fringe policy proposal -- in fact we had to create the cap and auction term so that our approach could be understood and easily distinguished from other forms of cap and trade involving bribing, not billing, the polluters. Now it is solidly in the mainstream, if not yet adequately embraced by Lieberman-Warner. It's amazing how fast this is now moving.)

But these two steps, combined, send a very strong message to the U.N. Climate Conference in Bali that the Bush Administration no longer speaks for America on global warming, and that the U.S. is only a bit more than twelve months away from rejoining the world.