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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lieberman-Warner Climate Bill Under Close Watch, Needs Improvements

Twelve of America's largest environmental groups gathered with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, on Capitol Hill this morning to show America that they are united to push hard for global warming legislation during this session of the 110th Congress.

The press conference "Boxer and Environmental Leaders United on Urgent Need to Address Global Warming" came as people have been talking about a division within the environmental community concerning the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act -- with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth absent from the press event. The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, NRDC, Environmental Defense Fund and others were in attendance, and their CEO's offered strong remarks on what is at stake if America does not step up and take a leadership role in reducing global warming pollution, soon.

Boxer's opening remarks were firey: "It is the job of Congress - starting now - to pass legislation to effectively reduce global warming pollution. We can't duck, we can't hide, we can't evade, unless we want our children and grandchildren to blame us and disparage us for walking away from this - our sacred responsibility. We can no longer fiddle while the planet gets ready to burn."

With each passing day, each scientific study that emerges, it becomes more clear that the U.S. "simply must step up and take a leadership role," as Sen. Warner (R-VA) said at a National Wildlife Federation press conference in February.

For those of you who have not followed this closely, the Lieberman-Warmer Climate Security Act passed through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in December. It calls for a more than 15 percent recution in global warming pollution (from today's levels) by 2020, and a 62-66 percent reduction by 2050. The bill would achieve this through a cap and trade program. Beyond any controversy about the free allocation of carbon offsets to polluting industries based on their past emissions, the very bottom line is that the reductions do not match what the best available science tells us is necessary to avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming. The bill does not go far enough.

At the press event this morning, however, Boxer and others made it clear that they will look to strengthen the bill as it moves through the Senate this spring or summer.
It seems that Boxer and friends are setting this up for a great debate...

on the Senate floor, and it seems that Congress will not be able to ignore the threats posed by global warming, especially if we continue to turn up the heat on them. It is good that global warming legislation is receiving so much attention, although it is still risky because as it stands right now it just does not do enough. We must look to ensure that the bill is not weakened, only strengthened, and that a winning piece of legislation is crafted as it continues to move forward.

"I'm willing to settle for the necessary, no less," said Boxer. "So if it isn't a good bill, it isn't going to happen."


Jesse Jenkins said...

Let's make sure we hold Boxer to those last words. I'm worried that she, and several of the enviro groups who stood with her today, think L-W, the "Coal Subsidy Act," as Adam Siegel aptly dubs it, IS an adequate bill.

As you write, clearly it's NOT adequate in it's current form:

-It fails to achieve the emissions reductions science tells us we need for even a 50/50 chance at stabilizing the climate;

-It fails to make polluters pay for the right to pollute our commonly-held atmosphere or to pay to clean up the damages their emissions cause (instead it gives a trillion dollars in free allowances away to polluting industries!);

-It fails to promote social equity by funding a new, sustainable and just green economy;

In short, it fails on most of the meaningful fronts, and if it stays in it's current form, I won't be sad if the Lieberman-Warner Coal Subsidy Act fails to pass the Senate this year.

We can get better in 2009. We should DEMAND better. The future of our civilization DEPENDS on us getting better than what the Coal Subsidy Act offers. So Boxer'd better follow through on those words...

"I'm willing to settle for the necessary, no less," said Boxer. "So if it isn't a good bill, it isn't going to happen." - Barbara Boxer

The Green Miles said...

Jesse, to paraphrase Will Hunting, are you going to regurgitate Adam's entire post for us, or do you have an original thought of your own?

You're saying global warming is such an urgent crisis, we should ... not do anything about it this year? And I don't get your/Adam's references to "making polluters pay" and "promoting social equity". Is this about cutting carbon emissions or sticking it to the power companies?

And through 2030 alone, the legislation calls for $350 billion in low/middle income assistance and $500 billion for investments in zero- and low-carbon technologies. Exactly how does that fail to promote social equity and a green economy?

Jesse Jenkins said...

Miles, I simply LOVE the irony of using a movie quote to tell me I don't have an original thought of my own! That's a turn of sardonic brilliance. Oh the irony...

As far as the substance of your response, you'll have to give me a little while I go consult Adam and see what I should say. Wouldn't want to say anything too original. That's certainly the mindset that's gotten me through nearly three years of blogging and over 500 posts...

Stay tuned for more. Nice to make your digital acquaintance Miles...

Jesse Jenkins said...

Miles, here's the initial answer about L-W (a longer response with better citations will come when I've got time for a post with full analysis of the bill):

A good climate change will will:

1) Get the job done! - the bill should achieve emissions reductions based on science and do America's part to avoid runaway climate change.

2) Be just! - the bill should invest value of emissions allowances for public benefit; not result in windfall profits for polluting industries; help low-income and economically displaced people transition; aid developing countries to hit emissions reductions we need globally.

3) Invest in solutions! - the bill should invest a good chunk of the value of the emissions allowances (tens of billions a year) in making clean energy sources - renewables, plug-in hybrids, efficient technologies - cheaper through RD&D, financial incentives, etc. It's not enough to just make dirty energy more expensive, we've got to invest in the solutions we'll need to solve the climate crisis.

So how does L-W stack up? Pretty poorly unfortunately.

1) Doe it get the job done? to stay below 450 ppm, we need global GHG reductions on the order of 50-60% by 2050. In the developed world, we'll need to do a lot more than that, on the order of 80-90% reductions. Even hitting 450 ppm might not be enough. Several scientists have said 450 ppm might give us a 50/50 chance of staying below the 2 degrees C temperature rise that, if surpassed, will likely unleash tipping points and feedback loops that'll send the climate spiraling out of our control. James Hansens says 350 ppm is a safer target. We're already at 380 ppm...

What does L-W get us to? 65% reductions by 2050 in covered sectors, which doesn't include all of the US economy.

The short-term targets are good though, you might argue. On the surface, yes, but L-W includes a borrowing mechanism that means polluters today might borrow against deeper reductions in the future in order to keep emissions prices down. So the inadequate long-term target could mean an inadequate short-term target too. Summary: L-W fails to get the job done!

2) Is it just? well, as you point it, L-W does include some good provisions that include transition assistance to displaced workers, assists low-income folks, protects threatened wildlife and habitats, and even includes some cash for international forestry protection.

But what about avoiding windfall profits for polluting industries? Nope! Fails on that account, giving away about a trillion dollars in cash or allowances directly to fossil fuel industries, gives another half a trillion to utilities, a couple hundred billion more to energy intensive manufacturing industries and producers and importers of hydrofloroucarbons (a potent GHG)... etc. etc.

This isn't about sticking it to polluters. It's about ensuring that the value of a public good - our atmosphere - is used for public benefit, and that polluters are paying to clean up the mess they are causing. This whole exercise in carbon regulation is about putting a price on carbon and internalizing a dangerous externality: GHG emissions. Turning around and handing out free allowances (=$) or cash to the very industries you are trying to close externalities violates basic principles of economics AND justice...

Summary: L-W fails to be just!

3) Does it invest in solutions?

Well, if by solutions, you mean "clean" (aka slightly less deadly) coal, then heck yah it does, to the tune of half a trillion dollars! Oh, and that other half a trillion you mention for "zero- and low-carbon technologies" could just as likely wind up in the hands of the nuclear and coal industries as it could end up funding renewable energy or efficiency. The bill has a $500 billion carve-out for slightly-less-deadly coal and ZERO dedicated funds for renewable energy. That's some great prioritization!

Oh, BTW, even EPRI estimates that commercializing carbon capture and storage for coal will take only about $18 billion in RD&D investment. L-W gives them half a trillion! That's a pretty sweet deal...

Summary: L-W fails to adequately invest in solutions (unless you're a coal baron!)

As I said, I'll put together a longer post with better citations, better analysis of the bill and some suggestions as to how to improve L-W to make it an acceptable bill (it's not entirely bad, just not there yet) soon. Real life (and sleep) interrupt me at this point though.

Care to respond to any of those points with your analysis (or maybe another pithy movie quote)?

Jesse Jenkins said...

Also, as to the urgency of the situation, sure it's urgent. But L-W doesn't implement anything until 2012. If we pass a bill in the first half of 2009 we could still implement the cap by 2012, especially if we focus on getting started on complementary measures now that'll set us up. So no, I don't think we should do NOTHING this year, but instead of spending all our political capital pushing L-W:

-we could implement a system of mandatory reporting and tracking of emissions so we've got the information we need to implement the cap. This'll have to be done whatever policy we adopt, so why not get started now?

-we can implement policies designed to help get the ball rolling, like a national renewable energy standard, increased energy efficiency standards, extended renewable energy and efficiency tax credits, removing unneeded subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, a moratorium on new unsequestered coal plants, etc. etc. etc.

Any of these policies would help us make measurable progress towards emissions reductions NOW and not in 2012, and would help make hitting any reduction target more feasible.

Or, we could spend all our political capital trying to pass a fatally flawed bill and ignore all that other stuff...

Yes, the climate crisis is urgent, but it's also important we actually get the job done right, or it won't matter a damn bit how quickly we acted. If we fail to stay below climate tipping points, we're all hosed. Period.

Tell me how, if we enact L-W tomorrow and it doesn't get the job done, we're somehow acting responsibly with a proper sense of urgency?

Anonymous said...

I agree with this guy

Anonymous said...

Oops. Here's a better link maybe

Click here for John Coleman's briefs on global warming.

Anonymous said...

The new road to serfdom

Peter Foster,  Financial Post  Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Criticisms of Environment Minister John Baird for the vagueness of the moves announced this week to force oilsands to sequester CO2, and prevent construction of “dirty” coal plants reflects the Alice in Wonderland quality of the climate-change non-debate. Opposition parties brayed that he had not been “tough” enough. Media headlines suggested that big emitters had “won.”

But nowhere in either the policy or the attacks would you find any suggestion that any measures, whether tough or not, would have the slightest impact on the global climate. How did we get to this ridiculous mess? It is all inextricably tied to the remarkable job that the Left has done in the past 20 years to rescue itself from the brink of extinction by exploiting environmental concerns.

That revival started in 1987 with the report of the UN-based Brundtland Commission. Brundtland was packed with representatives of the old left—defined as those who seek state control over capitalist enterprise on the basis that it is both morally suspect and practically unstable. The commission played into widespread misconceptions: that the world was “running out” of resources; and that the capitalist rich had achieved their wealth at the expense of “the poor.” However, its most important new weapon was that of the alleged despoliation of the environment by industrial society.

From Brundtland emerged the concept of “sustainable development,” or SD, that was to be managed so as not to adversely affect future generations. Practically, the notion that the enormous range of private economic activities upon which growth depends could be beneficially monitored and vetted was ridiculous. SD nevertheless maintained that markets’ “externalities” justified central co-ordination and control. What gaveSDits great boost was the theory of catastrophic man-made climate change.
The old/new Left was quick to seize upon the potential of climate change at the huge Brundtland follow-up at Rio in 1992. Rio was organized by Brundtland commissioner Maurice Strong, a long-time committed Canadian socialist who was the strategic mastermind of the new environmental Left. From Rio emerged the processes that led to the Kyoto accord.
Why would governments support the theory of potentially disastrous man-made climate change? It was a combination of the success of the environmental Left—in particular activist non-governmental organizations—in stoking the concerns of the electorate, and of the desire of bureaucrats and policy-makers to stay relevant, busy and in power. This in turn gave them an interest in supporting the NGOs’ radical message, which was amplified by government funding, and by allowing them into the policy-making process. The policy process became self-feeding.
This orientation helps explain why the abject failure of Kyoto was not taken as an indication that such processes were fatally flawed. Rather it was seen as a justification for “redoubling efforts,” and for having bigger conferences in more exotic locales.
NGOs were critical in closing down any scientific debate, both by developing close relationships with a generally sympathetic media and by constantly intoning the mantra that the science of climate change was “settled.” They were also important in impugning the motives of skeptics, who were dubbed “deniers” and claimed to be in the pay of Big Energy.
The environmental movement has also been astonishingly successful in co-opting education systems, and highly skillful at exploiting universal psychological tendencies to social conformity and deference to “authority.” The suggestion that climate change is primarily a “moral” problem has been a masterstroke, of which the masterstroker is Al Gore.
Invoking morality is a powerful weapon in shutting off debate. It employs the so-called “psychology of taboo” to place some claims—for example, that climate change may be natural, beneficial, or practically unstoppable—beyond the pale. Those who promote such notions must therefore be evil, or psychologically unbalanced, or in the pay of powerful corporations.
Invoking the authority of science and the democratic value of “consensus” are again both designed to cut off rational analysis. This leads to the strange phenomenon of the discussion of policy alternatives becoming delinked from likely results, as with the responses to Mr. Baird’s announcement this week. Thus the finer points of carbon taxation and/or cap-and-trade systems are debated with little or no concern about the fact that they will achieve little or nothing in terms of changing the global climate.
The new environmental Left claims to have recognized the power and efficiency of markets. However, markets allegedly have to be “designed,” and the based on the “right” prices. The perverse results of government price-setting and subsidies is readily apparent in the current biofuel disaster.
The Third World supports Kyoto-ism because it offers to provide further wealth transfers via boondoggles such as the Clean Development Mechanism. Third World despots, meanwhile, remain supportive of the notion that the benighted state of the countries they misrule is due not to their own corruption and incompetence but to the fact that the rich West has “exploited” them, and now threatens their very extinction via its selfishness.
The new Left that emerged via Brundtland, Rio, and Kyoto has thus co-opted a huge coalition of self-interested or naive supporters, who are attracted by the prospect of preening as saviours of the planet. Together they are threatening to carry the globe down a new road to serfdom.

Jenny Bedell-Stiles said...

Miles: "How do you like them apples!" I appreciated the Jesse/Miles exchange here, though for it to be a true exchange, Miles, you would need to respond, and I hope you do. :)

My $0.02 - Boxer is right on. We're going to have one good shot to get an adequate climate bill passed. It certainly won't happen until after January 2009. If L-W fails our standards for helping create a sustainable, just, and prosperous future for all, then let's ditch it. It has laid a great ground work as we progress towards a worthy bill and certainly serves us well to catalyze debate, better than a worthy bill would have. But we got off to the wrong start with this bill by compromising to get it through committee. If the bill can't start from a stronger place (realizing that it WILL ultimately be watered down in the process to the president's desk), then we should urge our champions to introduce another bill.

Anonymous said...

For factual information on CO2, peruse this abstract. Yes, climate change is complex, but not for Mother Earth. She has a good grip on the situation and doesn't need obstructive help from environmentalists.