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What to Do When the Current Climate Change Legislation Threatens to Do More Harm Than Good

  • What to Do When the Current Climate Change Legislation Threatens to Do More Harm Than Good
    Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change legislation, all signs are pointing to system failure.
    By The Nation
    AlterNet, April 15, 2010
    Straight to the Source

If that plucky, animated, singing scrap of paper from Schoolhouse Rock!--"(I'm Just a) Bill"--were around today, he'd be begging us to keep him out of the Senate. That's where good ideas go to get their teeth knocked out, to get fattened with pork and disfigured with loopholes, coming out the other end as Frankenstein versions of the initiatives they once were. We're left asking, Is this creature something we can live with and improve over time, as was the case with healthcare reform? Or is the result so hopelessly compromised that it ought never see the light of day?

Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change legislation, all signs are pointing to system failure. Congress urgently needs to pass a comprehensive climate bill, but the current Senate proposal, spearheaded by senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham, threatens to do more harm than good. It is not only inadequate to the task of curbing climate change; it could curtail the power of the EPA and state governments to regulate greenhouse gases--the best avenues for action in the face of Congress's failures.

The cap-and-trade bill that Obama originally proposed was by no means perfect. It did not even try to meet the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, what the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is minimally necessary from industrialized nations to avoid a chain-reaction climate catastrophe. But it did include a key mechanism that environmentalists regard as essential for cap and trade to work effectively: it would have auctioned off 100 percent of carbon credits, rather than giving them away, thereby raising funds that could be used to offset the burden of higher energy prices on low- and middle-income families and be invested in renewable energy.

By the time the 1,427-page Waxman-Markey bill squeaked through the House last June, however, those crucial elements of the Obama proposal had been eviscerated. Waxman-Markey would sell only 15 percent of carbon credits at an initial auction, with the rest doled out to polluters, free. Waxman-Markey also includes other concessions to the fossil fuel industry--most alarming, stripping the EPA of much of its regulatory power over greenhouse gases.

The outlook in the Senate is, if anything, worse. At this writing, its final details have not been released, but from early reports it appears that the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill would keep and extend the worst aspects of Waxman-Markey: inadequate emissions-reduction targets (only 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020), too many free permits and too many allowances for carbon offsets, which are of dubious value in fighting climate change.


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