Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen decry weakening of Waxman-Markey bill

by Mike Gaworecki

May 13, 2009

Greenpeace, along with Friends of the Earth and Public Citizen, today released a joint statement expressing deep concern with the direction the Waxman-Markey draft bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), has taken. Here is the statement in full:

We are extremely troubled by the reports coming out of the Energy and Commerce Committee last night on additional compromises to the already flawed American Clean Energy & Security Act. The world needs real leadership from Congress and the Administration to address global warming – action that will enable us to transform our economy with clean, renewable energy technology, new green jobs and show leadership internationally. If reports are true, the compromises being struck on the bill undermine these goals.

For more info, you can also read Greenpeace’s original statement on the Waxman-Markey draft bill, and read Friends of the Earth’s assessment.

One of our main criticisms from the outset was that the draft bill was largely silent on how it would allocate revenues from the sale of pollution permits within the cap and trade scheme proposed by the bill. This money should be used to build clean energy generation capacity and new infrastructure such as a smart grid. Instead the discussion draft contained giveaways and loopholes for the coal industry and its mythical “Clean Coal.”

The bill has, according to reports, become significantly worse in this respect over the past week or so. Bloomberg recently reported that Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is offering as much as an estimated $40 billion in free pollution permits to “utilities, refiners and manufacturers.”

President Obama initially called for 100% of pollution permits to be auctioned off, and his budget calls for as much as 83% of the revenues to be given back to middle class taxpayers to help pay for higher energy costs. If we give as much as 55% of the permits away for free – as is apparently being discussed – it’s unclear how Obama could afford to pay for such a middle class tax break. Such a giveaway is especially appalling given the example we have to learn from: 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 apparently 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.

(UPDATE: Joe Romm over on argues that it was not the giveaway of permits that caused the price to crash: "The EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) had too many total permits. That was why the price crashed, not because those permits were given away for free.  If the EU had auctioned all the tons, the price still would have crashed as soon as everybody realized there were too many in the market." I apologize for missing this nuance. It was an oversight, not an attempt to mislead. But the simple fact (and the overall point I was trying to make) still remains: Waxman-Markey was already flawed when it was first introduced as a discussion draft, and the industries creating all the pollution that will be regulated by the bill have had an inordinate amount of influence in shaping it since then.)

There are also reports that the giveaway to companies researching Carbon Capture and Sequestration, a totally unproven technology still decades away from large-scale implementation (if it even proves viable at all) and therefore a dangerous distraction from real global warming solutions, could be as much as $10 billion. And the emissions targets contained in the bill get worse and worse. The bill originally called for roughly the equivalent of what science says is necessary to avert the worst effects of global warming: 25 to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. But the baseline being used now is 2005, and the bill is said to only aim for reaching 17% by 2020.

Even worse, the conservative Democrats who have been most instrumental in watering down the bill are apparently attempting to get that target reduced even further, to 6% of 2005 levels by 2020.

Right now, these roughly 10 or 12 conservative Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, all of whom have received substantial campaign contributions from the fossil fuels industries, are standing in the way of real progress in combatting global warming. It’s absolutely inconscionable. If America doesn’t have a strong plan in place by December, the rest of the world is unlikely to be willing to commit to any kind of bold action in Copenhagen during the UN climate talks.

Who are these Dems, you ask? Check out this Guardian roundup, it has all the dirt on the Dems in bed with the dirty industries who are more worried about protecting their profits than the wellbeing of the entire planet.

Waxman expects to bring the bill before the full House Energy and Commerce Committee for markup by next Monday. There will be more info on what you can do to stand up with Greenpeace and the movement to stop global warming very soon, I promise…

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