Does the Weakened Climate Bill Have a Silver Lining
Having abandoned hope of passing comprehensive climate legislation before the November elections and probably this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will instead bring an energy bill to the Senate this week.
For proponents of a carbon-capping mechanism, the bill represents a missed opportunity to turn the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico into a pivot moment for a clean energy future.
“The climate bill will be substantially gutted and therefore won’t address the key issues of our day — getting off fossil fuels — which requires a massive injection of incentives to give renewable energy the level playing field they need to really blossom,” Ross Macfarlane, Senior Advisor for Business Partnerships with Climate Solutions, a non-profit in Olympia, Washington, told the Faster Times in a phone interview July 23.
Macfarlane added: “There’s definitely value in individual pieces. We’re tremendously disappointed by the Senate in not addressing our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels. That being said, there are some good points. We’ve always supported HomeStar (a bipartisan energy efficiency program). We’re supportive of efforts to reduce the risk of future oil spills and increase the possiblity of oil spill liability.”
The bill’s key components include provisions that hold BP accountable for oil damage in the Gulf of Mexico and prevent future offshore blowouts, create jobs in the clean-energy sector, and invest in the manufacturing of natural gas vehicles and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Speaking July 22 after a Democratic Caucus meeting on energy, Senator Reid emphasized, “We are not putting forth this bill in place of a comprehensive bill.” He said, however, that the Senate still had a good opportunity “to hold BP accountable, lessen our dependence on oil, create good paying American jobs and protect the environment.” While expressing disappointment in Senate Republicans, he urged compromise to pass a comprehensive energy bill.
Asked how proponents might move forward on getting carbon-capping climate legislation passed, Macfarlane said:
“We need to move toward a comprehensive policy on climate, increase our efficiency and break the iron grip that fossil fuels have on our political process. We’re just going to keep working toward what we know needs to get done.”
During the climate bill debate, voices from the business community had also urged the need to establish a carbon price.
In a July 26 email to The Faster Times, Scott Thomasson, Director of Economic and Domestic Policy for the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) in Washington, D.C., wrote: “Entire sectors of our economy have waited years for Washington to take clear and decisive action on greenhouse-gas regulation, but instead we keep stumbling sideways on the issue and failing to offer the kind of regulatory certainty needed to produce real incentives for innovation and investment in low-carbon energy resources.”
PPI has endorsed a carbon-capping mechanism for many years, without insisting on a particular version. Thomasson said that while Senate Democrats presented several workable approaches in recent weeks, the Republican response was “a complete absence of cooperation and knee-jerk recitals of ‘cap-and-tax’ rhetoric.” He emphasized that while Senate Republicans have refused to discuss compromises, “industry groups themselves have supported specific proposals and have been actively engaged in negotiations to move a bill forward.”
Thomasson further pointed out that resistance to carbon taxes in the name of the poor economic climate is misplaced since these costs wouldn’t have been imposed for several years, while investment in clean energy jobs would have been immediate.
For information about which Senators were pushed off the fence onto the No side, we will defer to The Green Grok which ran a series this summer on the 14 “fence-sitting” Senators, examining their motivations for not supporting a tough-on-carbon climate bill.
In a June 3 media teleconference, representatives of corporate members of two coalitions — the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (CAP), a coalition of corporations and public interest organizations, and the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), formed by consumer-facing businesses — urged the Senate to pass legislation with a carbon-pricing mechanism.
In a July 27 email to the Faster Times, Anthony Chavez, Public Affairs Manager for Weyerhauser, a member of USCAP, said: “We continue to believe that the best solution to addressing climate change is economy-wide, comprehensive federal legislation that uses market mechanisms to move toward a low carbon economy and recognizes the value of forests in addressing climate mitigation.”
For the 2009 climate bill, the website Price of Oil reported that over $20 million was spent by three oil companies (Exxon, Chevron and BP) in the first quarter to derail that attempt at a carbon-capping bill. And the site says Big Coal persuaded the federal government “to give away carbon emissions ‘allowances’ that likely will eventually be worth billions of dollars, and will slow the switch to a low carbon economy.”
Grist reported that in the first quarter of 2008, Big Coal’s front group, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, spent a record-breaking $1.9 million in federal lobbying expenses.
Asked about some specific lobbying efforts against this year’s climate bill, Macfarlane cited first “the amount of disinformation that has been contantly spewed forth — around the fact that we’re facing a crisis of global proportions around climate change.” He added that the ‘climate gate strategy’, cooked up by fossil fuels and think-tanks, pursued the same tactics as tobacco companies by saying “if we can’t win on science, let’s win on doubt.”
Macfarlane also pointed to the hundreds of millions that have been spent trying to convince people that the costs of moving away from fossil fuels are just too high when it’s clear that Americans want to end their reliance on fossil fuels.
“The carbon emission cap was a big target, but there have also been efforts to derail efforts to increase efficiency and to reduce the enormous amount that the taxpayers pay out to the oil, gas and coal industries,” Macfarlane said.
According to information at the Price of Oil, Fossil fuels received approximately $72 billion between 2002-8 compared to about $29 billion for renewable fuels. More than half the subsidies for renewables — $16.8 billion — went to corn-based ethanol, the climate effects of which are hotly disputed. Of the fossil fuel subsidies, $70.2 billion went to traditional sources, such as coal and oil, and $2.3 billion went to carbon capture and storage.
“One thing that ought to outrage taxpayers is that the most profitable industries are still the recipients of tax dollars — oil, gas and coal,” Macfarlane said, adding that taxpayer concern about energy subsidies fails to consider which industries are receiving the most money with which they are able to buy enormous access for lobbying.
The Role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in regulating carbon as a pollutant was upheld June 10 when the Senate failed to pass a resolution to stop it from doing so, which had been introduced by Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
MacFarlane said Climate Solutions is “very supportive of the EPA’s action to help in areas like beginning to pass standards for motor vehicles and starting to address the whole area of carbon pollution,” and will support the EPA in these endeavors.
Thomasson pointed out, however, that the EPA’s traditional command-and-control regime under the Clean Air Act “has proved to be a dysfunctional and inefficient way to encourage investment and innovation in clean technologies, because never-ending litigation and uncertainty paralyze decision making and investment in new projects.”
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