The US House of Representatives has taken an unprecedented step toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions as it passed a bill requiring utility companies to produce 15 percent of their electricity from wind and solar power.
The bill sailed through the House on Saturday on a 241-172 vote, despite fervent opposition from big oil and gas companies and the White House, which has threatened to veto the measure.
"Today, the House propelled America's energy policy into the future," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters. "This planet is God's creation; we have a moral responsibility to protect it."
Twenty-six Republicans crossed party lines to vote for the initiative.
The bill will have to be reconciled with a Senate version, which was passed in June but is more restrained and emphasizes slightly different priorities.
A provision in the bill calls for gradual steps to reduce the role of fossil fuels in generating energy, imposing a federal standard for the first time.
The bill would require that utilities provide 15 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources by 2020, compared to the present 6.1 percent, government statistics show.
The new standard will likely result in a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions -- a major contributor to global warming -- by 500 million tonnes, congressional officials said.
Power plants account for about a third of the carbon dioxide emissions in the US.
The new emphasis on renewable energy would lower natural gas and electricity prices and save more than US$100 billion for US consumers, the officials said.
If the best provisions of both the Senate and House versions of the bill were combined, US greenhouse gas emissions would drop 18 percent by 2030, an analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy said.
The Senate energy efficiency package, which includes new car fuel efficiency standards, is projected to reduce US demand for oil by 5.3 million barrels a day in 2030 -- 32 percent of oil and other liquid fuel imports projected for that year.
"The passage of this legislation is a major leap forward in our fight against global warming," Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen said.
"In a world threatened by climate change, increasing costs and decreasing supply, diversifying our energy mix with clean, homegrown renewables is good policy," he said.
The House also repealed about US$16 billion in tax breaks granted by US President George W. Bush's administration to the oil industry two years ago, mandating that the resulting tax revenues be used to pay for renewable energy research.
That has sparked a sharp response from the oil and gas industry as well as their Republican allies, setting the stage for a political showdown in the fall.
The American Petroleum Institute, a lobby that represents about 400 leading oil and gas corporations, issued a statement calling the House measure "the wrong prescription" because "it is premised on the false idea the nation must choose between alternatives and oil and natural gas."
The bill, the group warned, would discourage energy production and threaten job creation and living standards.
The White House plunged into the fray on Friday, firing off a terse two-page letter to Congress threatening a presidential veto and arguing against raising taxes.
The House and Senate bills, the White House's Office of Management and Budget said, "will result in less domestic oil and gas production, higher taxes to disadvantage a single targeted industry."
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