As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Waxman-Markey: Could Be Better

Some big news today on the climate change front, as Henry Waxman introduced a bill that would cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically by 2050.

Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the House energy panel, will unveil draft legislation to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent, according to two people familiar with the measure.

The California Democrat, who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee, will release the proposal today, according to the people, who declined to be identified before the plan is made public. Utilities will be forced to rely on renewable energy for some of the power they sell, the people said.

“The Waxman bill is the opening shot in the battle about what we do about global warming,” said Daniel Becker, director of the Washington-based Safe Climate Campaign. “So it’s pretty important.”

President Barack Obama has called for the U.S. to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050, and get a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Waxman’s proposal would follow those goals.

These goals are actually somewhat in line with the targets of the group Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), which includes Nike, Starbucks, eBay and a bunch of other corporate partners. Those businesses are worried about the direct results of climate change to their materials and suppliers. In fact, the BICEP plan is BETTER than Waxman's, because they are calling for a 100% auction, while Waxman's bill would give some carbon credits away to polluters:

The Waxman plan doesn’t specify whether any allowances will be given for free, as some companies have requested. The committee staff favors auctioning a majority of them, according to the energy lobbyist.

The proposal will allow industrial emitters such as cement makers and utilities to buy and hold emissions permits, then use them to meet their targets any time in the future. Polluters may also use permits from “offsets,” projects that absorb carbon dioxide from the air or produce energy with fewer emissions, to meet part of their obligation.

The Waxman plan will allow offset credits covering 2 billion tons of emissions annually, or about 27 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gases in 2007. The government will hold some permits in reserve to help industry keep transition costs down, under the draft plan.

Waxman's plan hews much closer to the U.S. Climate Action Partnership plan, which includes in the coalition ConocoPhillips and General Motors along with mainstream enviro groups. Ed Markey, the go-to on climate change in the House and a co-sponsor of the bill, admitted that some credits would be given away on a conference call today.

Good for Greenpeace for speaking out that this bill doesn't go far enough.

After more than a decade of denial and delay by U.S. leaders, Chairmen Waxman and Markey have placed clean energy and global warming at the very top of Congress's agenda as the world looks to the United States for leadership in the run-up to Copenhagen. The draft bill is a good first step in the right direction, but the bill must be strengthened to ensure that it will achieve the goals of transitioning to a clean energy economy and solving global warming.

Key short-comings that must be addressed include:

• Two billion tons of pollution offsets, a virtually unlimited amount equal to a quarter of all U.S. emissions. If all the offsets in the bill were used, the bill's emissions reductions could be met without any reduction in fossil fuel emissions for more than 20 years. We cannot solve global warming by simply planting trees and continuing to pollute forever.

• The coal industry receives untold billions dollar in handouts for the false promise of carbon capture and sequestration, with American ratepayers and taxpayers footing the bill.

Finally, the discussion draft is largely silent on how auction revenue will be used. We urge the committee to dedicate this revenue to the short-term up-front investments needed to transition to a clean energy economy, including investments in clean energy development domestically and in the developing world as well as adaptation efforts for countries and communities most directly affected by climate change.

Giving away credits makes absolutely no sense and will delay perhaps forever the transition to a clean energy economy. It should be a bright line for progressives. And obviously, the so-called "clean coal" industry shouldn't be getting a bailout in this bill.

What's problematic is that Waxman-Markey is likely to be the best climate bill coming out of Congress this year. The Senate version will be even more compromised. So improving on this one before it goes to a vote is crucial.

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