However, in all likelihood, the ACES will never be strengthened beyond its current form. All of the progressive climate change groups listed above would do extremely well just if the bill did not get any worse. This is because there are several more hurdles for the bill to leap, which I attempt to describe in detail in the extended entry.
Before the ACES even reaches the conference committee, there are numerous opportunities for it to be watered down even further:
The House Energy committee's markup of the bill begins today. Republicans on the committee have prepared an absurd 450 amendments to the legislation, and might even force committee chair Henry Waxman to read the entire 650 page bill into the record. This simultaneously is an attempt to delay the legislation as long as possible (at least into the summer), and to alter the bill in any way possible before it leaves the committee and is voted on by the full House. It stands to reason that some of the 450 Republican amendments will be added to the bill.
Once the ACES finally leaves the Energy committee (committee chair Waxman claims he has the votes), it will go to the Rule committee. Republicans will doubtless attempt similar delaying tactics at that time, and / or to attach enough amendments on the bill so that the delaying tactics can be repeated on the full floor of the House. Just how long the bill is delayed is important politically. Democrats want a floor debate and vote in the middle of a hot summer, while Republicans want to push it off into at least the autumn.
After the Rules committee, the ACES will finally reach the full floor of the House. Dave Roberts insightfully points out that the Energy committee is composed of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, from high carbon producing districts. As such, he argues that, if anything, the committee is to the right of the floor.
However, there are good reasons to be pessimistic about the bill being further watered down via amendment once it reaches the House floor. Many Democratic members, such as Melissa Bean, don't have fixed positions on legislation but are, instead, moderate for the sake of moderate. That is, they believe the best legislation is always to the right of whatever comes out of a Democratic controlled committee, no matter what that legislation actually says. As such, these members, such as Bean, always work to water it down, no matter what. The over-rising principle is not any particular position on climate change or new energy, but instead to show that you are a Democrat who is to the right of most other Democrats.
Next, once a further watered down version of the ACES finally passes the House, the Senate will take up the legislation. There is a 100% chance that the Senate will weaken the legislation even further. Already in 2009 the Senate has weakened, or defeated entirely, the stimulus bill, the budget, housing legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, bailout reform, executive compensation, a truth commission, and really every single piece of legislation coming out of the House. It will happen again with climate change and energy security.
Unlike health care reform, the 60-vote rule is in effect for the ACES. When the original ACES draft was released, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin immediately said he didn't have 60 votes. This much was obvious, given that when the Senate voted on much, much weaker climate change legislation in 2008, only three Republicans (Collins, Snowe and the retiring Mel Martinez of Florida) crossed over to vote for it. Conversely, four Democrats, Sherrod Brown, Byron Dorgan, Tim Johnson, and Mary Landrieu all voted against it. There were also a substantial number of Senators who did not vote (16), including nine seats that are currently held by Democrats (including Al Franken's). No matter how you look at it, we are starting in a hole well below 60 seats.
Given this, the only question is not if the bill will be weakened, but how much it will be weakened by. The best case scenario is, first, if it is passed out of the House with no further downgrades, and then if most of the changes made by the Senate are restored in the conference committee. That is possible, though extremely difficult.
In its current form, the supporters of the bill claim, that, in 2020, it will reduce United States greenhouse gas emissions by 17% of 2005's level. It is likely both that the bill will not actually meet its purported targets, and that the bill, when finally passed, will have a lower overall target than 17%. Still, there is hope that the bill, when combined with the economic downturn, peak oil, and stronger climate change action in other countries, will help keep 21st century temperature increase at only 2.5 degrees Celsius or lower. That is still a disaster, but at this point everything we do is about mitigating disaster, not stopping it.