The Island of Doubt

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.


  1. #1 Adam
    June 25, 2009

    I tend to agree. If China and India don’t come on board (and they probably won’t if we don’t do anything for our own emissions), then we might as well just throw up our hands and enjoy the last century of human civilization.

  2. #2 Brian Schmidt
    June 25, 2009

    #3 and #4 are contradictory – if the price is low, how can it be a $2 trillion market?

    #6: “If feasible, CCS would require far more mining, transportation and burning of coal to produce electricity.” What’s this supposed to mean? CCS is a big question mark, but if it works it could be the sweet spot in minimally changing our economic systems while evading climate impacts.

    #2 and #7: My understanding is the EPA retains control over non-farm offsets and under the bill can still impose new climate change regs over everything except coal plants. If I’m right (and I’m relying on secondary sources here) then either these guys don’t know what they’re talking about or are deliberately overstating their case.

  3. #3 eNeMeE
    June 25, 2009

    $150 billion over the bill’s lifetime for “deployment” of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology

    Could I get a piece of that? I’ll produce just as much actual technology as anyone else and for half the price!

  4. #4 Nils Ross
    June 25, 2009

    If you don’t pass something in the US, if we in Australia don’t pass something, and soon, then we have to move out of the paradigm of trying to prevent or limit global warming and into the nightmare scenario of trying to actively adjust for its consequences.

    Pass it, improve it over time.

  5. #5 Sailor
    June 26, 2009

    Looks to me like it will be a complete waste of time. When we want to get serious about carbon reduction, there is only one sane, and fair way to do it, but by no means simple.
    Rationing at the consumer end. Decide how much carbon we can afford and give everyone an equal ration for their share. Producers can use as much carbon as they want but everything must have a carbon rating.
    When you have spent your ration for the year, if you want more you will have to try and get a low consumer (probably from a less developed nation) to sell you part of theirs.
    A nightmare to administrate, but the only thing I see working. Companies will be highly motivated to become carbon efficient as people will not need to spend so many rations on their goods.

  6. #6 paulm
    June 26, 2009

    The bill is mostly symbolic.

    It would be best passed and then overruled with more necessary emergency action.

    This will be apparent as the next few years unfold Climate Calamity and Chaos!

  7. #7 Kaktuss
    June 26, 2009

    To Sailor:

    What you are suggesting is fascism, or communism (not much difference between the two), pure and simple.

  8. #8 RobertB
    June 26, 2009

    Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CSS): How low should the CO2 levels be lowered? Anyone who has measured CO2 levels in a corn field typically gets nil. CO2 levels in a peat bog can reach much greater than the 0.0383% average reported.

    It is almost as if plant life requires CO2 for growth.

    So all these greenhouse gasses are going to snuff out the planet? If >90% of the greenhouse gases are caused by H2O and not CO2, shouldn’t we ban water first? That would be the logical conclusion if you assume greenhouse gasses are the primary cause of global warming. Those damn clouds keep trapping in heat.

    It is almost as if there is no data to support a causative relation between CO2 and temperature. Computer modeling data that does not predict the future does exist, maybe, but nothing tangible. Not one reproducible study. Not one.

    Sorry, this is the biggest global taxing scam in history.

    Now, if you want to argue that human LAND USE activity has a MEASURABLE climate effect, I will whole heartedly agree with you, as there is actual… what’s that word…DATA to support it.

    You are giving science a bad name by jumping to conclusions.
    You are giving environmentalism a bad name by jumping to conclusions.

  9. #9 Greg
    June 26, 2009

    I agree totally. The bill stinks 5 ways to Sunday but… I blame all those who did not get off their ass and call their Congressman and Senator yet as much as I blame our Reps for listening to the interests of Coal and Oil who obviously did lobby. If you did not make a call or write a letter or OPED a newspaper you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. That said I do think we need to have something on the books before the fall run up to Copenhagen. (Man I wish it were better though). So here’s my plan. The bill now goes back to the Senate for one last round. I’m going to lobby every Senator I can reach as hard as I can to make these changes God help us all if we blow this!

  10. #10 scientist2
    June 27, 2009

    carbon tax, upstream and we don’t have to worry about offsets, excuses, worries of foreign trading, bubbles, difficult to track fraud etc

    with W-M we’re talking minimal to no environmental impact, convoluted and already weakened capping system which will be rife for corruption, fraud and which as you suggested could cause larger scale financial instability, and which will be gutted to the core by credits already given out if/when it gets through the senate

    the only people happy with w-m are those who want to make a symbolic gesture and lawyers

    if you’re going to save the world, you can’t go in 2%

  11. #11 Kyle
    June 27, 2009

    Tell me again why we should further raise energy costs and villainize proven forms of energy such as oil and coal?

    Haven’t average global temps steadied and even dropped since the beginning of this decade? Has not the world experience wide ranges of temperatures over its long existence?

    Did air conditioning and internal combustion engines create the conditions that allowed for the Vikings to farm there areas in the far North Atlantic?

  12. #12 bonzo
    June 27, 2009

    How anyone can think that passing a Bill that those casting votes have not been able to read is a good idea beats me: it is ludicrous.
    CO2 allegedly causes Global Warming – temperature rising, ice melting, bears drowning, sea levels rising
    BUT None of these things have happened
    So we now have Climate Change where the problem is again (allegedly) CO2 rising but without the effects claimed for GW
    Its just Marxism control freakery mixed with anarchy and lunacy

  13. #13 monique
    June 28, 2009

    Well, seeing that Obama and other GW Alarmists have suppressed Key EPA studies that show it is all a hoax, I would say DUaaaaah !!
    Now we have across the pond they are suppressing Major polar bear study that state the populations have been growing!
    How Inconvenient some TRUTHS can be! Damn those pesky FACTs!!

    It is only all about massive TAX HIKES! Give it a few more years and we will be on our way to another Ice Age. They just need a little time to figure out how to tax us on that trumped up theory.

    . . . . .

    “”If the Obama administration gets its way, Americans will not become aware of the scientific evidence: Obama’s EPA suppressed the Carlin/Davidson report and tried to keep it secret for political reasons. The emails obtained by the CEI are revealing. […]

    Global warming zealots are a bit like Iran’s mullahs. They are fanatically devoted to a series of false propositions. Unable to win an open scientific debate, they consistently resort to bullying and brute force to suppress their opposition. Once again, we see the Obama administration taking the lead in this regard, putting political ideology above scientific truth and demanding that all others do likewise.”

  14. #14 Brian Schmidt
    June 29, 2009

    Well, the denialists are showing up in the comments here. I’ll repeat my offer I’ve made in other places: if you don’t think temperatures are increasing, or if you don’t think the increase in temperature is accelerating, then I invite you to put your money where your comments are and bet me over it.

    Haven’t had much luck in finding takers….

  15. #15 bonzo
    June 30, 2009

    Brian Shmidt

    No one is going to accept your offer of a bet : it’s no good sneering at the so-called “denialists” (or sensible people) since if we cannot agree what is actually happening NOW (disputed temperature increase, disputed drowning bears, disputed sea level rise) how would it be possible to agree later who would have won the bet?

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