In a video posted on YouTube, Congressman Mark Kirk (R–Ill.) looks up from a 1300-page stack of papers and says, “I’m on page 587, reading about ‘Alternative Metrics and Threshold Review’ and I’ve got many more hours to go before the vote and a couple hundred more pages.” 

Apparently, the riveting read was enough to convince the Kirk and seven other Republicans to vote for the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill, backed by most Democrats and opposed by most Republicans, barely passed the House—219 to 212—late Friday. Next stop: the Senate, where an even tougher battle is expected.

The vote marks a first step toward a federal cap on climate-warming gases and encourages growth of the renewable energy sector. If the House bill becomes law, the target for U.S. greenhouse emissions in 2020 would be 17 percent below 2005 levels.

Who were the other renegade Republican congressmen who broke rank?

Leonard Lance was one of three New Jersey Republicans backing the bill. “Today’s legislation,” he said in a statement, “while not perfect, is a badly needed and long overdue step toward a national energy policy that reduces our dependence on foreign oil, ensure our national security and leads us on a path toward cleaner energy.”  The other two New Jersey Republicans voting for the bill were Chris Smith and Frank A. LoBiondo, who called for his state to grow its green industry.

Michael Castle (R–Del.) said in a statement that while he worried that Americans could face increases in their utility bills, he agonized "about the cost of doing nothing."  "Nations around the world are surging ahead with emission reductions and developing new energy technologies," he said, "The United States should be on equal footing, if not leading this effort to remain competitive."

Other GOP notables included Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), John McHugh (N.Y.) and Tom Petri (Wisc.) who have backed environmental legislation in the past.

Finally, David Reichert (R–Wash.) whose Web site includes a photo of him in front of a snow-capped Mount Rainier reminded his constituency that, “Teddy Roosevelt was the true example of a Republican engaged in conserving resources for our children and grandchildren, but he also had the foresight to seek a brighter future for them.  Republicans must be at the table as we look for solutions in energy independence and preserving our environment.”

Image of elephant courtesy TheLizardQueen via Flickr