Climate Change Legislation Getting Warmer – Updated

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

[Updates, upon further consideration, are in italics.]


Last month I wrote about the Kerry-Lieberman proposed American Power Act, and the reason it is not Kerry-Graham-Lieberman as originally intended. I wrote with little enthusiasm for the KL proposal – it’s not a bill yet, it’s just a set of suggestions. Lindsey Graham’s name on what emerges is a matter of complete indifference to me; what’s important is that this session of Congress pass an energy bill, and that what becomes law is better for ordinary people like you and me than it is for the carbon-based fuel industry.

Kerry-Lieberman does not meet that criterion. Doubtless, it will go through many changes before it comes to a vote. We can hope some of those modifications are more Main Street friendly.

Rather than rewrite existing material that explains this assertion, I want to send you to the page on the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) website, where KL is discussed, and then to another that tells of an alternative that comes much closer to addressing my hopes for climate legislation.

But before you click away, I want to acquaint you with FCNL and explain my relationship to it.

The “Friends” whose committee it is are the Religious Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers. FCNL is its lobbying group. This morning I took my maiden voyage as the liaison between my Quaker meeting (where I go when I mention going to “meeting for worship” in other posts) and FCNL. I stood up during the time for announcements and gave a brief report on what I’m telling you here about climate legislation.

I wouldn’t be sending you to the FCNL web site – I wouldn’t be going to Quaker meeting at all – if the Society of Friends tried to convert people, or to so much as hint that they have any corner on the market for religious truth. Quakers as a rule, and FCNL in particular, base their actions on spiritual, not religious, values.

Here are the values listed at the top of the FCNL front page. Read them, and decide whether you want to look at the climate change articles I recommend.

We seek a world free of war and the threat of war
We seek a society with equity and justice for all
We seek a community where every person’s potential may be fulfilled
We seek an earth restored

My problem with Kerry-Lieberman, which I arrived at without consulting FCNL, is that it favors fossil fuel producers and nuclear power and would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of some crucial powers. Here’s FCNL’s summary of their proposal.

Senators Kerry and Lieberman deserve credit for drawing attention to greenhouse gas pollution. The problem with their legislation is it would make the problem worse:

  • Kerry-Lieberman would make offshore oil and gas drilling more attractive for states and corporations-the same kind of drilling that’s now wreaking havoc on the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast.
  • Kerry-Lieberman would require companies that produce greenhouse gas pollution to pay for that pollution but artificially props up industry favorites with government cash handouts and doesn’t do enough to protect low- and moderate-income people from the rising price of carbon.
  • Kerry-Lieberman would gut the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act and revokes the states’ ability to continue innovate programs for reducing carbon.

If you want to know more, you’ll find FCNL’s evaluation here. Portions of their analysis and recommendations for citizen action are a bit more than I’d advocate, but the facts they offer are accurate and, I think, fairly presented.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the bipartisan bill proposed by Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington and Susan Collins of Maine until I was preparing for this morning’s announcement. It is entitled the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act. (Remember: it’s not really an Act until both the House and the Senate adopt it; it becomes a law when the President signs it.)

It is much simpler than the K-L proposal, it doesn’t take sides where energy producing industries are concerned, its aim is to free the U.S. economy from its dependence on carbon-based fuels, and it recognizes that if this happens, energy costs for consumers are bound to increase. It provides a plan to compensate people like us for this increase.

I’m putting a portion of FCNL’s analysis of Cantwell-Collins below. If you click here you’ll find a 5-page PDF file you can download or read online, along with links to more about it.

100 percent auction of pollution permits
Following the “polluter pays” principle, Cantwell-Collins has no free giveaways to industry; every company selling a ton of fossil carbon dioxide into the economy for combustion is charged an equal price.

“Energy security dividend”
Although putting a price on carbon will increase consumers’ energy prices in the short-term, the majority of the public will actually feel a positive net financial impact from the CLEAR Act, according to a University of Massachusetts, Amherst report These progressive energy dividend benefits occur because 75 percent of the pollution revenue collected from industry is returned equally every month to every legal resident of the United States.

Protection from market manipulation
The CLEAR Act limits participation in the carbon market to those companies who must turn in carbon permits for compliance. This and other provisions in the CLEAR Act address concerns that Wall Street traders will drive up and down the price of carbon permits to attain greater profits at the expense of consumers and clean energy investments. Volatile energy prices have shown to decrease investor confidence and reduce low-carbon investments. Extreme or prolonged price spikes can jeopardize the entire pollution-reduction system due to the politically untenable increased energy costs to consumers (as occurred in the Los Angeles RECLAIM cap-and-trade program according to the Congressional Budget Office).

No offsets
The CLEAR Act does not contain carbon offsets. Offsets are used in other climate legislation to substitute for U.S. industry pollution reductions, but the Government Accountability Office concludes that offsets are impossible to consistently verify as real emission reductions. Offsets also delay the decarbonization of the U.S. economy, making the inevitable transition more abrupt and potentially more costly than necessary.

Does not pick technology winners and losers
CLEAR does not subsidize coal, nuclear power, or renewable energy. Instead it deposits 25 percent of the carbon revenue that the government collects from polluters into a fund to be used in the annual congressional appropriations process. This approach avoids the lock-in of 40-year dedicated government funding streams to specific technologies that may not end up becoming effective low-carbon solutions. Instead, the CLEAR Act allows congressional appropriators to re-allocate funding as technological realities change.

“Upstream Cap”
CLEAR requires compliance as high up in the economy as possible – at the wellhead, coal mine, or import point. This reduces the administrative burden to only 2 to 3 thousand producers and importers and ensures catching the vast majority of fossil carbon that enters the U.S. economy. Thus, the upstream approach is a much simpler and less bureaucratic system for capping carbon dioxide.

Keeps Clean Air Act protections
The ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to set minimum standards for the largest greenhouse gas emitters is left intact.

There are those who will say Cantwell-Collins is “too green” to pass.  Maybe they’re right, but if the attempt isn’t made, they are certainly right.  There may be a way — and I certainly hope there will be a serious try — to blend the best of both proposals.  They’re both still only proposals — trial balloons, if you will — and we can only benefit by telling our senators what we like and don’t like about each.

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One Response to “Climate Change Legislation Getting Warmer – Updated”

  1. Yo thanks to you for this entry.

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