Pull the plug on the climate change bill

Few problems require federal action more urgently than global warming. I admire the members of Congress who have been trying to address this issue. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman tried to get the best deal he could. Senator John Kerry has tried to keep things moving in the upper chamber. Senator Lindsey Graham is getting tons of grief from fellow Republicans because he admits that climate change is a problem.

I want to support these people and their efforts to get a bill on the president’s desk. Unfortunately, the time has come to accept that Congress is too influenced by corporate interests to deal with climate change in any serious way. Pretending to fight global warming won’t solve the problem and may even be counter-productive.

This depressing post continues after the jump.

In June I reached the conclusion that the House climate change bill had been watered down too much to combat global warming effectively. As Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder explained,

“Corporate polluters including Shell and Duke Energy helped write this bill, and the result is that we’re left with legislation that fails to come anywhere close to solving the climate crisis. Worse, the bill eliminates preexisting EPA authority to address global warming-that means it’s actually a step backward.

“Last November, the American people voted for change. Unfortunately, while the party in power may have changed, the process through which this bill was negotiated makes it clear that the overwhelming influence of corporate special interests has not. This exercise in politics as usual is a wholly unacceptable response to one of the greatest challenges of our time, and it endangers the welfare of current and future generations. […] If the ‘political reality’ at present cannot accommodate stronger legislation, their first task must be to expand what is politically possible-not to pass a counterproductive bill.”

Some of my friends argued with me, citing valuable (and largely unreported) provisions in the American Clean Energy and Security Act, or saying the planet cannot afford to have the U.S. go to the December summit in Copenhagen empty-handed. Well,

President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement at a global climate conference scheduled for next month, agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific “politically binding” agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future.

Joseph Romm is excited by this news because, in his view, it “increases the chance for Senate passage of the bipartisan climate and clean energy bill that Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen Lieberman (I-CT) are negotiating with the White House.”

My question is, why should anyone believe the bipartisan bill will accomplish its stated goals? 14 Senate Democrats are demanding even more freebies for coal-burning utilities, which undermines any incentive to move away from coal.

Friends of the Earth has been trying to rally progressive senators to demand improvements in the climate bill. But the 14 Democrats who signed a letter demanding more giveaways to coal included Tom Harkin, Russ Feingold, Al Franken and Sherrod Brown. These aren’t the usual Conservadem corporate hacks; these senators have strong Progressive Punch ratings. Harkin has previously said the U.S. should not be bound by long-term emissions reduction goals in any climate bill. In other words, give polluters their money up front, and give Congress an “off-ramp” to nullify future emissions targets.

The House bill already gave away too much to polluting industries. Any bill that clears the Senate will be worse. Many utility companies have withdrawn or delayed plans to construct coal-fired power plans during the past year. A climate change bill that defangs the EPA and gives the coal industry free money will probably increase the use of coal to generate electricity. Every new coal-fired plant is a 50-year investment in the wrong direction.

Over at MyDD, Nathan Empsall warns of the costs of putting off climate change legislation:

December was an important deadline; we don’t have long to act. The International Energy Agency said last week that for every year past 2010 we wait to take action, an additional $500 billion per year is added to the long-term cost of climate change’s effects. […]

If Copenhagen is only punted a few months, and if Congress does indeed pass a serious clean energy bill before the midterms, than today’s agreement is a good one and will make the eventual treaty matter in a way Kyoto never did. If, however, Congress doesn’t act or the international agreement is punted into oblivion, than today might be the day historians point to as the decision that ended hope.

I understand the sense of urgency, but a bill that merely pretends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is worthless. No “serious clean energy bill” is on the table.

My hope ended when Congressional Democrats decided to listen to corporate lobbyists instead of copying successful policies from abroad. Denmark and Sweden have massively reduced their greenhouse gas emissions in the last 15 years without impeding economic growth. Germany is way ahead of us in terms of solar power use, and in theory, it wouldn’t be hard to replicate the policies that made that happen. Instead, Kerry and Graham are serving up this:

The Senate Bill as now drafted also includes a “Clean Energy Development Administration” that could deliver virtually unlimited federal cash to build new reactors and fund other mega-polluters.

Also on the table are vastly expanded permits for off-shore drilling. And Kerry/Graham have talked of making the US “the Saudi Arabia of clean coal” while bringing “new financial incentives for companies that develop carbon capture and sequestration technology.” […]

The give-aways are allegedly meant to attract GOP votes. […]

But even with provisions pushing a hundred new reactors in the US alone, some GOP stalwarts hint they would NEVER vote for a bill that includes cap-and-trade clauses. So is the GOP set to play the same game with Climate legislation as it has with health care: prolong negotiations, gut the substance of reform, demand—and GET—untold corporate give-aways, and then oppose the bill anyway?

What thin green substance survives could be limited to a few showpiece handouts for renewables and efficiency, with cap-and-trade as the centerpiece. But many environmentalists argue that cap-and-trade could create yet another costly bureaucracy with little real impact on the climate crisis.

It’s time for environmentalists to accept that Congress is unable to grapple with this problem.

We would be better off letting the EPA regulate carbon-dioxide emissions and trying to get President Obama re-elected.

Feel free to post a comment telling me why I’m wrong.

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  • You're right

    It sucks and is very discouraging to see hope for climate change legislation fall to corporate reality.  BUT, you are wrong because we seriously need to get the cap-and-trade infrastructure in place so we can (hopefully) strengthen it later on.  Otherwise, we will be fighting corporations for the same scraps in a few years.  Cap-and-trade will create winners and losers.  Once the “winners” get a taste of the spoils (and the losers see that its not all that egregious) then at least maybe we’ll have corporations and interest groups that are well funded to fight against the polluter lobby down the road.  

    The EPA will not be able to regulate carbon effectively.  They can do some good things, but the second they try to really regulate carbon, they will be stripped of any such authority by Congress (Reps and coal state Dems).  Obama would veto, but he really doesn’t want to go down that road anyway.  So our only hope is a crappy bill that has potential for being built upon and tightened up later (likely in a second term)…….As depressing as that is.  

    Obama did say that “Change” would not be easy, or quick 🙂