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The $838 billion economic stimulus legislation backed by passed a key Senate procedural hurdle late Monday by 63 to 38 to end debate on the bill, and was approved on Tuesday by a vote of 61 to 37.
The passage of the Senate legislation received a warm greeting from US and international environmentalists.
“President Obama has argued strongly for his economic package and is carrying his message to the American people,” said Jonathan Temple, Director of Bellona USA.
“The new legislation will encourage a green energy revolution that will help combat climate change. All eyes are now on Congress to pass the necessary legislation.”
The 61-to-37 vote was largely along party lines, as expected, and followed closing arguments with some sharp partisan edges. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, called on Republicans to acknowledge not only that the country is in crisis, but “to acknowledge that they actually lost the election,” the New York Times reported.
Only a few Republicans voted for the bill. They were Senators Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, whose support was vital when the bill narrowly cleared the procedural hurdle requiring 60 “yes” votes on Monday.
The bill – embraced by many in the United States as “the Green New Deal” – now goes for what could be contentious negotiations with the House, which passed a different version of the bill last week. The House bill includes fewer taxes and more spending than the Senate version. The House version passed without a single Republican vote.
Republican Specter’s continued support comes with strings attached, and he warned that he would not support a final bill if it emerged from negotiations substantially different from the one the Senate passed.
“My support for the conference report on the stimulus package will require that the Senate compromise bill come back virtually intact,” he told reporters.
After negotiations, the package could be on Obama’s desk by week’s end.
The president has pushed to ink his signature on the legislation that will define his early presidency by Monday’s US Presidents’ Day holiday.
In doing so, he has had to defend spending on clean energy programmes included in the stimulus bill against criticism.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday night – his first since taking the presidency – Obama lashed back at critics of the stimulus plan and called for more federal involvement in energy policy.
“Now maybe philosophically you just don’t think that the federal government should be involved in energy policy.” Obama said.
“I happen to disagree with that. We can have a respectful debate about whether or not we should be involved in energy policy making, but I don’t suggest that somehow it’s wasteful spending. That is exactly what this country needs.”
When the Senate voted to call an end to debate on the bill on Monday night, most of Obama’s energy initiatives were left standing and largely unscathed.
At present, as the Senate legislation goes into negotiations with the House, it bears funding cuts would for some energy efficiency and energy research and development projects in areas that are priorities for Obama.
For instance, a $6 billion measure for the construction of “green” federal buildings has been cut to $4.5 billion. A proposed $8 billion in loan guarantees for funding renewable energy projects has been reduced by the senate to $7 billion.
Similarly, the Senate reduced from $600 million to $300 million the amount Obama’s stimulus package would have spent on more fuel efficient vehicles.
But these were small bruises to what are several billion dollars that are going into energy technology, development and deployment – among them the United States’ new keenness on carbon capture.
The Senate package includes at least $7 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy, about $1 billion more than had been approved by the House.
The Senate green package also contains also includes a 30 percent tax break for wind and solar energy investments
Indeed, a study by ICF International, a climate change consultancy group, concluded that the $838 billion package as it currently stands would deliver minimum greenhouse gas emissions savings of 61 million tonnes a year – equivalent to taking 13 million cars off the road – and could result in far deeper emission cuts.
One sticking point for many environmentalists in the current legislation will be the $50 billion in loan guarantees to the US nuclear industry.
But even this is a climb down from the $122 billion in guaranteed loans the nuclear industry requested, and did not receive, to build 21 new nuclear power stations.