Paging Al Gore: Leonard Boswell needs to hear from you (updated)

Chris Bowers wondered yesterday at Open Left why advocates of legislation to address global warming (the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act) aren’t playing hardball with Democrats who are watering down and threatening to block this bill.

By way of example, Bowers mentioned Congressman Leonard Boswell, who along with other Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee won’t vote for Waxman-Markey unless the bill is amended to benefit conventional farmers. Brad Johnson of the Think Progress “Wonk Room” provides excellent background information on what the House Agriculture Committee members want to do to Waxman-Markey.

But back to Bowers’ post. He points out that during last year’s Democratic primary for the third Congressional district, Boswell relied heavily on Al Gore’s endorsement. Boswell featured Gore’s support in direct-mail campaign fliers and radio advertising. Gore also signed a fundraising appeal for Boswell’s campaign, which included this passage:

Whether the issue is global warming or increasing the minimum wage, making college more affordable or expanding health care to every American, Leonard Boswell is on the frontlines of these issues.

Truthfully, Boswell has never been out in front on global warming. He voted for George Bush’s awful energy bill in 2005, filled with subsidies for fossil-fuel polluters. He came late to support the Safe Climate Act in the last Congress, signing on as a co-sponsor only in December 2007, after learning that Ed Fallon was planning a primary challenge.

But that’s water under the bridge. The much more serious problem is Boswell’s threat to vote down Waxman-Markey, which for all its flaws is still the best climate change bill ever to have a chance of passing Congress.

Al Gore has said global warming is one of the great moral issues of our time. It’s time for him and other prominent environmental advocates to lean on the House Democrats who are undermining Waxman-Markey.

On a related note, Ed and Lynn Fallon’s organization I’M for Iowa sent a press release on June 16 criticizing Boswell for “failing Iowans” on climate change legislation. In a separate e-mail to supporters, the Fallons challenged Boswell to “do what Al Gore would do” and support the American Clean Energy and Security Act. I’ve posted both the press release and the e-mail message from I’M for Iowa after the jump.

Members of Congress also need to hear from ordinary citizens who support a strong American Clean Energy and Security Act. Iowa Interfaith Power and Light makes it easy for you to write to your representative by clicking here. Other non-profit organizations working on this issue include Iowa Global Warming, the Iowa Renewable Energy Association, the Sierra Club Iowa chapter, and the Iowa Environmental Council.

UPDATE: Boswell’s spokesman Mark Daley responded with a statement explaining several areas of concern with Waxman-Markey despite Boswell’s “ardent support for climate change legislation.” (Let me know if you’ve seen evidence of this “ardent support” during the past 14 years.) I’ve posted the statement after the jump.

I’m not buying it for several reasons. Many people who have thoroughly studied this issue do not agree with the alleged impact this bill would have on farmers. The idea behind giving the USDA jurisdiction over the agriculture offsets is that the USDA will give farmers more offsets than the EPA would. If this is about getting more money to farmers, then I agree with Bowers that we’d be better off just handing farmers cash instead of credits.

If we want to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from current levels, then utilities that currently rely on fossil fuels may need to do more. Boswell says this is a bias against consumers in the midwest and that the allowances for utilities should be based on “historical emissions”. I am sorry that midwestern utility companies have not been more farsighted about getting away from fossil fuels, but I don’t understand how Boswell’s approach gets us to the solution we need, which is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Speaking more generally, no one claims the Waxman-Markey bill is ideal. I could argue that a carbon tax approach would be better than cap-and-trade, but a carbon tax isn’t politically viable, so here we are. I could complain about two dozen compromises that have already been made to satisfy this or that corporate or regional interest. Ultimately, the threat global warming poses to the planet is too great to let any one group derail the whole Waxman-Markey project, as Boswell is apparently willing to do if he doesn’t get his way about USDA jurisdiction. Someone who continually bragged about Al Gore’s endorsement during last year’s primary should be able to see the bigger picture here.

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