What’s good yall? The big climate story today is that Chairmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and Ed Markey (D-MA) of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee released their draft of the long-awaited carbon cap bill, titled the American Clean Energy and Security Act (see full text and summary). The four sections of the bill cover: 1) a renewable energy portfolio, requiring that every region in the country get a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and promoting electric vehicles and a smart grid transmission system, 2) energy efficiency increases in business, appliances, transportation, and industry, 3) a limit on ‘emissions of heat trapping pollutants’ (essentially a greenhouse gas cap), which would mandate a reduction of emissions to 20% of 2005 levels by 2020 (better than Obama’s proposed reduction, 14%), and 4) a transition initiative that would ‘protect US consumers and industries’ and ‘promote green jobs’.
There have of course been responses all over the blogosphere and mainstream media. First, here’s the Times’ article on the bill. The Times’ climate coverage has not been my favorite, but as one of the more respected voices in mainstream media I feel it’s good to keep up to date with their narrative. The article details how the bill contains a number of major concessions to the coal industry, reflecting the extreme influence the coal industry has across the board with both Democrats and Republicans. The bill grants free pollution allowances to the steel, paper, glass, and cement industries, implements sanctions against countries not working to cap carbon (so as to eliminate comparative advantage for heavy emitters,) and provides $10 billion in financing for the development of CCS or clean
as bullshit coal. The bill has been praised by the US Climate Action Partnership (a coalition of businesses that have been arguing for particularly lenient climate policy,) but General Motors, Alcoa, and DuPont have stated that they will push for their own pollution allowances. I am unsurprised by this corporate whining, but am hopeful that President Obama will stick by his earlier statements on allowances (that if no one is paying, no one stops polluting.)
1Sky issued a press release calling the bill a step in the right direction but not yet strong enough with regard to offset allowances, the domestic cap, and the coal industry. This makes sense given that they have been calling for a far stronger cap, 40% by 2020. I hope for myself that 1Sky strengthens its rhetoric and makes a strong push to keep the pressure on policy-makers to make the GHG cap truly science-based (meaning that the cap follows the prescriptions of the most up to date climate science, which suggests that 40% reductions of 1990 emissions levels by 2020 for developed countries will be necessary if we are to have any hope of returning to CO2 atmospheric concentrations of 350 ppm, the generally accepted safety threshold. We are already at 387 ppm.) If you’d like to urge President Obama to strengthen his goals for emissions reductions, check out 1Sky’s site here. It bears noting that while this figure, 350 ppm means the difference between flooding and massive flooding, between high commodities prices and really high commodities prices for us, it means the difference between having a country and having an ex-country for small island nations (threatened with the sea overtaking their land) and the other most vulnerable, least developed nations (threatened with desertification overtaking their land,) who have overwhelmingly been the lowest emitters historically. Check out It’s Getting Hot In Here’s coverage of their recent appeals in Bonn here. Also check out 350.org, a group devoted to spreading the word about the 350 ppm figure and the need for science-based policy. I wish they’d get back to me about my internship application, but that’s beside the point.
The consensus across the board (unless you consider the above mentioned existence-threatened nations) seems to be that the bill is a good start, but needs more work. Over at Climate Progress, Joe Romm gives the bill a B+. He thinks that it sets a clear message that business as usual (climate devastation) is not on the agenda, but is also too weak when it comes to offsets (which are frequently cheap but ineffective means of reducing emissions- see Climate Progress, there are too many articles on this to link effectively). With regards to the coal provisions he suggests that it is a moot point in part because of the EPA’s CO2 endangerment finding, which should put up serious obstacles to any dirty coal (which probably means any existing coal) in the near term. In addition, a recent report from the Energy Information Administration (a government agency) indicated that new coal plants will not even be needed to meet imminent energy consumption. Sweet!
[Update 4/1/09: There's some more responses out from 350.org and SolveClimate.com, both of whom are somewhat less happy with the plan. At 350 they mention the Sustainability Institute's estimate that the plan will only be sufficient to get us to 870 ppm by 2100, which a stable climate does not make. I'm not sure how they reach that estimate, but it's disconcerting to think that this is the level our legislation is at (and could still be watered down when it's brought to the House and Senate.) SolveClimate provides an array of short clips of groups' responses and raises the dilemma that I find myself faced with:
"Environmental groups are caught between two desires on this bill. While they want stronger legislation than the draft they saw today, they know that greenhouse gas emissions need to start falling immediately to avoid the most serious climate changes, and they know Congress needs to give President Obama strong evidence of the U.S.'s intentions to take with him to Copenhagen."
Word. The plan seems insufficient, but do we want to delay it in the interest of pushing a tougher cap that may be more difficult to pass?]
No easy answers, but I hope this serves as a valuable summary for some of the issues surrounding the proposed bill at this stage. If you are interested in working on campus to agitate for climate legislation, there’s an OPIRG meeting I’ll be going to on Thursday, April 2nd, at 7:00, Wilder 327. Hope to see you there.
Peace out yall, have a good one.