I’ve been agonizing over this for weeks. My initial stance was yes, because if Waxman-Markey (a.k.a. the American Clean Energy and Security Act) doesn’t make it, I doubt we can afford to wait for Congress to take another stab at it. But the lobbying over the past few days has been fierce. I get emails from both sides, and by both I mean both sides of the environmental community.
The argument against ACESA is compelling. For example, the Climate Crisis Coalitions’ latest email enumerate the weakness of the bill thusly:
1) Weak cap. ACESA’s cap on greenhouse gas emissions represents reductions of only 1‑4% below 1990 levels by 2020, far less than climate scientists deem necessary.
2) Offsets further weaken the cap. ACESA overwhelms its own cap by allowing two billion tons of dubious “offsets” annually, with up to two‑thirds from international sources which could allow U.S. emissions to keep increasing until 2040. ACESA’s offsets provisions have been further weakened by the latest compromise: transerring EPA oversight to the Department of Agriculture and excluding indirect impacts of biofuels production.
3) Fails to put a meaningful price on carbon. The weak cap combined with offsetts, would result in a price on carbon far too low to produce the changes in energy use ncessary to avert climate catastrophe. Free allowances to utilities and energy intensive industries further mute the price signal needed to shift to a low-carbon economy.
4) Trading Combined with “subprime” offsetts will lead to speculative bubbles. ACESA’s trading provisions would create a volitile $2 trillion carbon market with unregulated derivatives that could crash financial markets again. Linking trading systems internationally would lead to even larger opportunities for speculation, gaming and fraud.
5) Weak Renewable Energy Standard. ACESA’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES) is watered down to just 15% by 2020, barely greater than “business‑as‑usual.” Furthermore, ACESA defines “renewable energy” to include dirty sources such as waste incineration.
6) Handouts for the coal and oil Industries. Through free allowances and a hidden utility tax, the coal industry would receive approximately $150 billion over the bill’s lifetime for “deployment” of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology that presently doesn’t exist and may never materialize. If feasible, CCS would require far more mining, transportation and burning of coal to produce electricity. ACESA would also give approximately $24 billion to oil refiners under the pretext that the world’s most profitable industry needs still more financial assistance.
7) Pre‑emption of EPA Authority. ACESA would pre‑empt EPA’s authority to regulate sources of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, while also overriding stronger laws at the state and regional levels. By disabling this regulatory backstop, ACESA ensures that its failure as climate policy will be catastrophic.
Add to that list the notion fatally flawed legislation may have the effect of giving Congress the idea that it can now forget about the problem, when in fact this is just a baby step toward what’s essential. What Congress would do after passing/not passing ACESA is anybody’s guess. Makes modeling the planet’s ecosystem easy by comparison.
The House may vote Friday, although that could easily be put off until after the subsequent early-summer break. So what I do (what would I recommend you tell your congressmen and women to do)? I am sticking by my first instincts, for one reason:
If the U.S. doesn’t go to Copenhagen in six months with climate legislation of some kind, already signed by the president, then the chances of a useful international treaty shrink significantly. But if ACESA does make it to Obama’s desk, and the world manages to cobble together something a value in December, then that might provide the impetus for Congress and/or the president to keep at the task of working towards real action that offers more than a theoretical chance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For me, the global picture says we need this bill to pass. Hold those proverbial noses firmly, but pass it.