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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's 3% When The Planet Is Boiling Anyway?

Democratic leaders on the Energy and Commerce Committee and coal-state holdouts reached a deal on energy and climate legislation that lowered the threshold for the carbon cap to a level where I'm trying to determine its value.

House Democratic leaders are scaling back plans to curb global warming and make the transition to cleaner energy in the hopes that they can get a bill passed this year.

"We have resolved a good number of the issues," said (Henry) Waxman, who chairs the panel and has set a Memorial Day deadline for it to clear the committee. "I believe we will have the votes for passage of this bill next week." [...]

Initially, the bill called for electricity producers to generate 25% of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2025. That target has been lowered to 15% by 2020, with as much as 5% coming from improvements in energy efficiency.

The deal also makes more modest cuts in greenhouse gases. The draft unveiled in March called for a 20% reduction by 2020 in the emissions blamed for global warming. The version that will be unveiled later this week will call for a 17% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020.

While that early pollution goal goes further than the president has called for, it still falls short of what other countries are calling on the United States to commit to by December, when a new international agreement to reduce global warming pollution will be negotiated in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Other details of the bill still need to be worked out, such as how the allowances to emit greenhouse gases will be distributed. Obama has called for a 100% auction and would use the billions in revenue to help fund renewable energy technologies and to offset higher energy prices for middle-class households.

Waxman said Tuesday that the Democrats on the committee had agreed to give 35% of the allowances away for free to local electricity distribution companies to help ease costs. Allowances will also be doled out to auto manufacturers to help them develop cleaner cars.

As expected, the original Waxman-Markey bill represented the most leftward option, and that already was pre-compromised a bit. Now we have a smaller cap, a smaller renewable mandate, and a greater amount of carbon credits handed to polluters. And that's just to get it out of committee in the House. To clear the full House might take another dent or two, and then to clear the Senate will require a whole other set of compromises.

I think by the end, the bill will require Al Gore to fly less and that's about it.

I'm wondering where the vaunted Obama organization is in all of this. They have started to ramp up an effort to pass Obama's health care bill, but only based on his "principles" and not on any specific language or hard issue, like a public option. On energy, supposedly just as key a pillar in the Obama agenda, they have been silent. Bills get constructed now, not at the end of the process when it turns to an up or down vote on the floor. Surely the details matter, unless the goal here is simply to get anything done that can be called "reform" in a moderately credible way. I fully recognize the "art of the compromise" rhetoric about politics, and as long as these bills are seen as beginnings and not endings, we can live with them. But a little volume at the BEGINNING of the process rather than a rush at the end would help, Mr. President. Unless you see these bills at data points on your re-election resume instead of deadly serious legislation that affects all of our lives.

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