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Complex Climate Bill May Freeze Your Web Browser

Credit: NASA (Image credit: NASA)

The House might vote Friday on a climate bill that has generated arguments from more sides than there are political parties. It's nearly impossible for the average person — and likely the average politician — to know what this bill might or might not do.

The bill is sweeping in its change, ambitious in its scope, and therefore an easy target for loud and obfuscating arguments that easily distract from the goal: to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and embrace alternative energies.

And don't count on any media outlet for the full picture. A scan of several major reporting outlets reveals none covered all the angles on this one in any one story.

So, you can find all the nasty quotes elsewhere. Here's a little summary of what might be facts ...

(The bill is H.R. 2454: American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. Here's the bill and here's a summary. NOTE, however, this warning from your government: "This bill is very large, and loading it may cause your web browser to perform sluggishly, or even freeze." I kid you not.)

What is it?

Among the aims of the bill: "To establish a combined efficiency and renewable electricity standard that requires utilities to supply an increasing percentage of their demand from a combination of energy efficiency savings and renewable energy (6% in 2012, 9.5% in 2014, 13% in 2016, 16.5% in 2018, and 20% in 2021-2039).

It also calls for a national strategy for carbon capture and sequestration and the development of an electric vehicle infrastructure (the equivalent of gas stations on every corner).

According to The Wall Street Journal: "The bill aims to cap greenhouse-gas emissions at 17% of 2005 levels by 2020 and at roughly 80% by 2050, creating a market for companies to buy and sell the right to emit carbon dioxide and other gases. It also mandates a new renewable electricity standard and establishes new national building codes."

As one example of the disagreements, Democrats representing farm states are concerned that the Democrat-sponsored bill will cost their constituents.

So to move the bill along, a farmer-supported deal was reached that "puts USDA in charge of programs that would pay farmers and other landowners to conduct the environmentally friendly projects," according to The New York Times.

One word

Another key deal changed one word, Politico reports. "Congress defined which coal-fired power plants would be covered by new greenhouse emissions standards and which would be grandfathered outside them," the web site explained. The change: Only a handful of plants would have been exempt, those that were "finally" permitted. The new wording exempts about 100 plants in various stages of the permit process — that is, those that are "initially" permitted.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would cost the average U.S. household $175 a year by 2020, The Washington Post reports. Republicans have been saying it'd cost a lot more.

You might not have heard yesterday — because it was overshadowed by things like health care, war, war, the prospect of war, and the prospect of war — but the White House scrambled its talking troops in an effort to generate public support for the bill.

Among the bill's supporters was, of course, President Obama, who called it "historic," Reuters reports. That, of course, remains to be voted upon.

In The Water Cooler, Imaginova's Editorial Director Robert Roy Britt looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond. Find more in the archives and on Twitter.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.