US climate bill weakens

Feature story - 14 May, 2009
A piece of legislation that started out as a real opportunity for the US to combat climate change has been co-opted by special interests and now threatens to do more harm than good. The Waxman- Markey bill is set to go before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday and could remove the ability of the US to commit to real action on climate change at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December.

Government leaders are responsible for delivering strong legislation on emissions to tackle climate change.

According to reports, the 600-page draft bill on energy and climate originally aimed at providing solutions to climate change - including a plan to cap and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the US - has become significantly weaker over the past week and is no longer strong enough to help the US do its part to combat climate change.

Big business gets the bail out

The draft bill has always failed to explain how it would allocate the money made from the sale of pollution permits within the emissions cap and trade scheme proposed by the bill. This money should be used to build clean energy solutions - like a smart grid. Instead, the discussion draft contains giveaways and loopholes for the dirty coal industry and false solutions such as Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) Even worse, we are hearing reports that the bill has become significantly worse in this area over the past week. Bloomberg recently reported that Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is offering as much as US $40 billion in free pollution permits to "utilities, refiners and manufacturers."

President Obama initially called for 100 percent of pollution permits to be auctioned off and to use up to 83 percent of the revenues to help taxpayers to pay for higher energy costs. According to reports, the bill might actually end up giving as much as 55 percent of the permits away for free. The EU's Emissions Trading Scheme originally gave away so many permits that pollution permits were trading for as little as 1 euro cent, providing no incentive for polluting industries to clean up their act. Now the fossil fuels industries - who have spent some $45 million lobbying against the bill - are succeeding in convincing House Democrats to make the same mistake.

False Solutions

There are also reports that giveaways to companies researching Carbon Capture and Sequestration, could be as much as US$10 billion. CCS is an unproven technology still decades away from large-scale implementation and is a dangerous distraction from real climate change solutions. But that still isn't everything, the emissions targets contained in the bill seem to get worse and worse. The bill originally called for roughly what scientists say is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change: 25 to 40 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2020. However, now the bill looks like offering a cut of 4 percent on 1990 emission levels. To make this look good the baseline has been shifted to 2005, allowing the politicians to present it as a much bigger cut . Even worse, the conservative Democrats who have been most instrumental in watering down the bill are attempting to get that target reduced even further, to 6 percent of 2005 levels by 2020.

The bill is set to go before the full House Energy and Commerce Committee by next Monday. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Public Citizen, have all raised serious concerns about the direction of the bill and called on committee not to pass the bill as it is written now. Read our statement in full. For more info, you can also read Greenpeace's original statement on the Waxman-Markey draft bill, and Friends of the Earth's assessment.

President Obama cannot let this situation continue. He needs to tell congress to deliver an effective bill, that will make the polluters pay, rather than pay the polluters.

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