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

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Still Time To Strengthen Waxman-Markey

Henry Waxman will suffer the endless string of GOP amendments to his climate and energy bill only until today, before he puts the hammer down and moves the bill out of committee. He's even hired a speedreader in case the GOP wants to delay the bill some more by having the whole 900-page behemoth read in full. Waxman wants the bill out of committee rather than being held up by procedural silliness and self-serving amendments. You can watch this thing drag on over at C-SPAN 3.

But of course, once the bill leaves committee, that's not the end of the story. While the Chairman believes he has the votes, and the Energy and Commerce committee is generally more conservative than the House as a whole, the bill has plenty of other hurdles. Charlie Rangel and the Ways and Means Committee wants his hands on it, and he will prioritize health care well before this bill. Collin Peterson over at Agriculture wants a piece of it as well. And Waxman wouldn't commit yesterday to this bill even reaching the House floor before August.

My point in bringing this up is that there are months to go before the final bill takes shape. Various fiefdoms in the Congress want to put their fingerprints on it, and nothing will happen quickly. This is important, because there's substantial debate over whether this bill represents a true compromise that everyone can live with, or a flawed bill that would not have the kind of impact that makes it worth the many giveaways involved. Brad Plumer at TNR highlights the biggest, but by no means the only, compromise.

One of Waxman's biggest compromises, the one attracting the most attention, was that roughly 85 percent of the pollution permits under the bill's carbon cap-and-trade system will be given out to companies for free, rather than auctioned off by the government [...]

If Congress auctioned off all or most of the pollution permits under a cap-and-trade system, companies would have to pay more for the allowances, and the U.S. government would raise more revenue. That'd be money Congress could then rebate directly back to consumers to soften the blow of higher energy prices; or it could spend some of the money on clean-energy research or efficiency projects (many of which won't necessarily come about just because there's a price on carbon). Right now, there's less money in Waxman-Markey for both of those things.

Ultimately, Plumer believes that, while the bill is flawed, it would still represent a step forward and progressives ought to support it. The Economist appears to disagree, noting the looser cap on emissions (now 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 instead of 20%). Adam Siegel calls it a coal subsidy bill because it subsidizing the fossil fuel industry far more than renewables. The bill is so large and includes so many competing measures that it's impossible to really divine what it would do at this point. But there are many months left to make that determination and find the points where it can be improved.

Progressives will either have to eat these compromises or reject anything this mushy, depending on the political movement that grows up around the issue, and right now, that movement is relatively silent.

There are two ways to overcome the political hurdle. Either cut deals with the coal, oil, auto and utility industries that weaken (but hopefully don't completely undermine) the legislation. Or convince voters in those areas that their interests are not the same as those of fossil fuel CEOs, motivating them to take action and putting public pressure on key congresspeople to back stronger climate protection legislation.

Cutting deals can be handled behind closed doors in the halls Congress. Generating public pressure requires major grassroots mobilizing.

The political reality Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey had to face is there has been no major grassroots mobilizing in the broader progressive movement. While poll numbers show strong support for strong legislation, there has been no grassroots intensity to back that up, to convince skittish politicians that the public is demanding action immediately, and will hold politicians accountable if they don't follow through.

...broad, deep, relentless and coordinated grassroots mobilization is the only thing that can put a wedge between special interest lobbying and Congress. If we aren't present in the halls and offices of Congress, you better believe every day corporate lobbyists are.

Bill Scher is absolutely right. But there's a larger question about political capacity here. All these problems hitting at once really dilutes the energy that can be put to any one topic. We have a couple wars, a financial meltdown, major health care legislation and about 100 other things going on. The President prioritized health care and that's what has gotten much of the activism. The enviro groups haven't done their job of building a movement outside of throwing a couple ads on the air. But I wonder what they really could have done. And I also wonder if there won't be possibilities for movement pressure down the road. We're at the beginning, not the end, of this fight.

...Just to be clear, I think the bill should be improved. Giving away pollution credits will put the burden of transforming the energy sector on the poor and not save anyone on their electric bills. The renewable energy standard ought to be strengthened up to at least 25%. My point is we have a lot of time to do this, but the enviro groups have to take the lead.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,