GEOG 432
Energy Policy

America's Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES)

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On June 26, 2009, the United States House of Representatives made history by passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill called the American Clean Energy and Security Act (also referred to as the Waxman-Markey bill, so named for the bill's cosponsors, Henry Waxman and Edward Markey). While it marked a triumphant victory for its proponents in industry and environment alike, its narrow passage with a vote of 219-212 immediately signaled concerns for hopes of a similar bill passing in the Senate.

In the House, 8 Republicans voted in favor of the bill and 42 Democrats voted against it. Want to know how your then-Representative voted? Visit Gov Track Voting Records.

Photo of House Representatives announcing the passing of the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Bill
House Passes Historic Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Bill.

Let's take a look at some of the highlights of ACES, as passed by the House.

  • required electric utilities to meet 20% of their demand for electricity through renewable energy sources and energy efficiency improvements by the year 2020, with 75% of that requirement coming from renewable energy
  • established new efficiency requirements for new buildings and appliances
  • utilized the income generated through the trading of emission permits for clean energy investments ($190 billion through 2025 based on estimates of allowance prices and volumes)

Here are some of the highlights specific to the establishment of a market-based cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

  • covered entities include: stationary sources emitting 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent or more annually, producers and refiners of petroleum fuel, natural gas distributors
  • includes an eventual 83% reduction in emissions relative to a 2005 baseline by the year 2050
  • established a cap and trade system of emission permits to achieve reduction schedule
  • initially, permits were to be freely allocated in an effort to protect consumers and end users from dramatic increases in energy rates and goods prices; over time, the percentage of permits freely allocated would decrease and more and more permits would be instead auctioned off
  • allowed for the use of offsets as a cost containment measure, recognizing the relative low cost of utilizing offsets for compliance in the early stages of the program
  • credits issued under existing trading programs in California, the Western Climate Initiative, RGGI, or the Chicago Climate Exchange could be exchanged for federal allowances

This was more than a decade ago - what does a bill that never even came up in the Senate matter to us now?

This was really as close as we got to passing a national regulation on carbon of any kind and while the Clean Power Plan later also represented a comprehensive attempt to address carbon emissions, this was explicitly for the sake of addressing climate change.  (You could argue the Clean Power Plan was, too, since it was definitely intended to be Obama's main pathway forward for meeting Paris Agreement goals, but still - this was different.) Remember, the momentum leading up to Obama's election in 2008 was very different than the divisive climate politics we have now.  John McCain and Barack Obama both campaigned with the promise of enacting a federal cap on carbon.  We could talk at length about why it never came to be in Obama's first term, but the key takeaway from this is that even when climate change was not as politically divisive, we weren't able to enact aggressive legislation based on our scientific understanding of the problem.