Lieberman-Warner: A Bad Deal
Today the Senate Environment Committee began the process of creating groundbreaking global warming legislation that would result in a cap-and-trade system for polluters in the United States. It passed the first markup stage on a series of 4-3 votes. However, I'm sad to report that this is not a positive development. In fact this bill would be a massive giveaway to corporate polluters, allowing them to receive emissions credits instead of buying them at auction. And that's only the beginning of the bill known as, and this should be a tip-off, Lieberman-Warner:
"The Lieberman-Warner bill will reward corporate polluters by handing them pollution permits worth almost half a trillion dollars," said Friends of the Earth's Erich Pica, one of the authors of the analysis. "And that's just one part of this bill. The bill also includes hundreds of billions of dollars of other mind-boggling giveaways. The levels of pollution-rewarding giveaways in this bill are truly obscene."
In particular, Friends of the Earth's analysis found that the bill:
* Provides the coal industry and other fossil fuel industries pollution permits worth $436 billion over the life of the legislation; 58 percent of this amount goes to coal
* Returns revenue raised through auctions directly to polluters -- for example, an additional $324 billion would subsidize the coal industry's efforts to develop carbon capture and storage mechanisms
* Directs another $522 billion of auction revenue to low or zero-emissions technologies, which could result in handouts to the nuclear power, big hydro and coal industries, which are not clean (these funds could also be directed toward important clean technologies, such as wind and solar -- the legislation is not specific)
Lieberman knows what he's doing in dealmaking in the Senate, however, and he locked up enough support to get the bill through today's markup, going toe-to-toe with America's most unsung Senator, the great Bernie Sanders, who explains his opposition in this blog post:
On most issues, Congress goes through the time-honored tradition of working out compromises which both sides can end up accepting. I want to see all the kids in America have health care. Other members think the Children’s Health Insurance Program should not be expanded. We compromise on 4 million more children in the program. I think a program should be expanded by $100 million. You think it should be expanded by $50 million. We compromise at $75 million. That’s the way business is done here and in other democratic societies and there is nothing wrong with that. We live in a country where people have different political views and in almost every instance members of the Senate compromise to reach an agreement.
Today, however, we have a qualitatively different situation. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. The issue is not what I want versus what Senator Lieberman or Senator Warner or Senator Inhofe may want – and the need to work out an agreement that we can all accept. That’s not the dynamic we face today. The issue today is one of physics and chemistry and what the best scientists in the world believe is happening to our planet because of greenhouse gas emissions. The issue is what we can do, as a nation, along with the international community, to reverse global warming and to save this planet from a catastrophic and irreversible damage which could impact billions of people.
In other words, we are not in a debate now between Bernie Sanders and anyone else. It’s not a debate between what I want or what you want. We are in a debate between science and public policy. And the views that I am bringing forth, to the best of my ability, are the views of the most knowledgeable scientists in America and the world: the people who, among other achievements, have just received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Half-measures aren't going to work, especially when they are also giving away for free what could bring in massive revenue to create that Apollo program for energy that we so desperately need. John Edwards has come out against the bill because it's not commensurate to what is needed. Here's what Brian Beutler thinks is happening next:
Now that it's made it through the subcommittee, though, the Lieberman-Warner bill will face the tougher challenge of passing through the full committee.
With the exception of maybe Lamar Alexander of Tennessee -- and that's an extremely large maybe -- it's likely that John Warner will remain the only Republican "aye" when America's Climate Security Act comes to a committee vote in weeks ahead.
So where does that leave things?
Well, Lieberman may have decided not to allow Bernie Sanders to play a constructive role in this process. But what he did do is bring Frank Lautenberg in on a big amendment package -- announced at the beginning of the hearing as a "substitute amendment" -- the details of which remain largely unknown. What is known is that Lautenberg voted to move America's Climate Security Act forward today.
The question, then, is whether or not Lautenberg will make a bid for for more -- whether his support is permanent or temporary. If he's thrown his lot in with Lieberman and Warner, then the bill has a decent shot of making it to the full floor of the Senate.
Sounds like Lautenberg needs to be pressured - and he's up for re-election next year. If he can turn, then Sanders can have a major place at the table in changing this bill's intent. And frankly, the chairwoman, Senator Boxer, needs to step up on this as well. I don't want to hear about "a good first step" when it comes to saving the planet.