Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Gulf Spill and a Climate Bill, part 1

Last Wednesday, Senators Kerry and Lieberman unleashed their long awaited version of clean energy legislation.  What was originally known as the KGL bill has become merely KL, as Lindsey Graham dropped his support due to partisan bickering over immigration.

Senator Kerry has come out blazing for this bill.  He published an essay entitled "Transforming our Power" in the Huffington Post, as well as this piece in Grist.  In Kerry's own words, here are the big details of the bill:

"In the bill, we finally start to bring down carbon pollution by sending a clear price signal on that pollution. This market is tightly controlled, with only folks who need the permits able to buy the permits in the initial auction. No Wild West of speculation, no big banks coming in to buy up permits. Then the corporations who buy those permits can trade among themselves, so if a company makes great strides in bringing down their carbon pollution, they get the benefit of being able to sell off their permits, and if they don't, they need to buy more. It's simple, fair, and rewards those American companies who work hard to bring down their emissions of carbon pollution. And much of the proceeds of that carbon auction get sent straight to the American people, helping out consumers with their energy bills. Bottom line: it does what President Obama told the world we'd do -- it reduces greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 2005 levels at 2050."

So hurrah!  Finally, we have climate legislation that everyone can get behind, right?  Well, not so much.  Turns out that many "Little Green" environmental groups vehemently oppose Kerry's bill because of its many giveaways to polluters like Big Oil and Dirty Coal.  They also feel that the bill's weak measures won't be enough to prevent catastrophic climate change (and based on James Hansen's predictions, they're right).

But we do have to start somewhere, don't we?  That is Kerry's main point.  He realizes that this bill is nowhere near perfect, but we need to start reducing American greenhouse gas reductions ASAP.  And this is the best he thinks we can do.

Most big environmental groups (like the Sierra Club, NRDC, etc) have yet to take any definite stance on the bill.  As Jonathan Hiske of Grist observes, they impressively managed to craft a statement without any opinion:

"It is time for America's leaders to get serious ... the Gulf Coast oil catastrophe is yet another reminder ... President Obama and leaders of both parties in Congress must provide the leadership necessary to develop a clean energy and climate solution," said the joint letter from 23 larger and more D.C.-centric groups, including Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Sierra Club, Audubon, and the League of Conservation Voters."

With opposition to the bill from the small green groups and non-committal approach from the large environmental groups, this bill is nobody's favorite.  This doesn't bode well for the bill's passage, especially given the tough political climate of the upcoming midterm elections.

Further complicating the picture is the Gulf Oil Spill, which ironically may hurt the chances of Kerry's bill passing.  You see, a couple months ago President Obama unveiled his plan to allow expanded offshore drilling.  This was supposed to be the compromise that would allow an "Energy Independence" Bill to finally pass.  And then the BP pipe broke.  The non-stop gushing oil has made Obama look pretty foolish, and has caused a lot of Senators to question the provisions in the Kerry Lieberman Bill that allow for continued drilling.

And that's the current situation regarding a US climate bill.  Altogether, not too encouraging.  Many say that we should give up on this Congress, and hope for the best after midterms.  Well, I don't think that's very wise.  America needs a clean energy bill, and it needs it now.  In my next post, I'll highlight some reasons why we should push the Senate to pass this bill, and how Obama has failed to utilize the opportunity of the Gulf Spill.  As a preview, check out Thomas Friedman's latest piece for the New York Times.

More to come on this soon.

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