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UPDATE: Shady attack groups, new proposals, and the American Clean Energy and Security Act

by Mike Gaworecki

May 6, 2009

I wrote earlier in the week about the Waxman-Markey draft bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), which is stalled in sub-committee. Well, there has already been a lot of activity on that bill, and on global warming legislation in general, in the past couple days. So an update is definitely in order.

ACES, of course, would create a cap-and-trade scheme to lower our emissions and spur investment in renewable energy. Cap-and-trade means capping emissions and selling, or trading, emissions permits, forcing industry to pay for their pollution. The revenue from the sale of these pollution permits could then be used to invest in renewable energy generation and infrastructure, like a new “smart” electricity grid, as well as help developing nations bypass the dirty energy economy altogether in favor of a clean energy economy. One of the main problems with the ACES bill, which I didn’t actually point out in my last post, was that the bill did not have much to say about where revenue from the cap-and-trade scheme would go.

But Rep. Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, has introduced a new bill based on a different idea that addresses the problem of where the revenues would go. His approach is being called “cap-and-dividend,” because he wants to give all of the proceeds from the sale of pollution permits directly back to tax-paying Americans, essentially as a dividend on the investment of tax-payer money into America’s energy infrastructure.

A cap-and-trade scheme would require us to ratchet down the number of pollution permits available – the point being to eliminate emissions as much as possible as quickly as possible – so it will inevitably drive up the cost of energy. These increased costs will of course be passed on to consumers. President Obama’s budget proposes to use as much as 83% of the revenues from cap-and-trade to pay for a middle class tax cut to help offset the higher energy costs. Hollen’s proposal to pay Americans back directly through dividends on the investment of tax money is an intriguing notion, perhaps easier to sell to the American people than a tax cut because of its simplicity.

Not surprisingly, there are many industries trying to get a piece of the pie as well. Even less surprisingly, there is already a shady, deliberately non-transparent industry group running radio ads in opposition to ACES in the districts of several moderates on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. (Least surprising of all? This group is affiliated with another group that gets funding from ExxonMobil.) Check out Climate Progress for all the details, insofar as they have emerged, about the American Energy Alliance, the front group running the ads and repeating the same debunked lies about the likely costs to taxpayers of a cap-and-trade scheme.

Whether or not cap-and-dividend ends up catching on as the solution, it’s important to consider all options. We need all honest, thoughtful ideas to be on the table for debate. And then we need to push our lawmakers to consider all of these proposals and decide what’s right for the world. Because our opponents are not interested in honest, thoughtful debate. The fossil fuels industries will be funding tons of PR efforts like these deliberately misleading radio ads in the coming months, and their aim is not to debate but to stop any bill aimed at reducing pollution and ushering in a new era of clean renewable energy, period. We need to step it up, speak out, and let our Reps know that we demand strong global warming legislation now, or they’re going to listen to the fossil fools and their shady front groups instead.

According to E&E Daily (subscription required, sorry), there is still some deep-seated unease among Democrats about implementing solutions to global warming:

So far, the [House Energy and Commerce] committee’s Democrats have struggled to reach consensus as about a dozen moderate and conservative lawmakers from the South, Rust Belt and Intermountain West resist the aggressive path that Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, set out in a 648-page draft proposal.

The Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee met with Obama this week, but of course not many details have been released publicly about the meeeting. It is being reported that Obama asked them to reach consensus and bring the bill out of committee by Memorial Day, so that they could turn their attention to health care.

This debate happening right now is quite possibly the most important debate we have ever had. Right now, a handful of moderate Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are all that stand between us and a full House debate on the strongest global warming bill yet. You can bet those moderates are hearing from the fossil fuels industries. We need to make sure they hear from us. Get involved and tell Congress why you care about the environment and want them to pass legislation to stop global warming.

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