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Road to Copenhagen Part 3: US Climate Legislation & Lobbyists

November 21, 2009

With just two weeks before the International Climate Summit in Copenhagen we thought it would be useful to look at current US legislation as it relates to Climate Change. We have already discussed in this series Global Warming and Public Opinion and the growing international opposition leading up to Copenhagen.

With the announcement last week that there will be no international agreements decided on in Copenhagen, the US Senate now has some time to massage their version of the Climate Change legislation passed by the House in June of this year.

Called the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the Waxman-Markey bill was fought hard by the energy industry. According to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, “More than 460 new businesses and interest groups jumped into lobbying Congress on global warming in the weeks before the House neared its historic vote on climate change legislation.” You can see from the chart above that there was a spike in the amount of lobbying just prior to the bill’s passing.

It is true that that the energy industry fought hard to defeat this legislation and according to the Center for Responsible Politics those who voted against the bill received on average about twice as much money compared to those who voted for the bill.

While the Obama administration and some of the beltway environmental groups hailed this vote as a victory, many people and organizations believed that the Waxman-Markey bill was too weak and made too many concessions to industry. Greenpeace fought against the legislation and stated, “The Waxman-Markey bill sets emission reduction targets far lower than science demands, then undermines even those targets with massive offsets. The giveaways and preferences in the bill will actually spur a new generation of nuclear and coal-fired power plants to the detriment of real energy solutions.

Friends of the Earth had a much stronger critique of the House bill on Climate Change. “Vital authority for the EPA is stripped, but 2 billion additional tons of pollution are authorized every year, forever. Residential consumer protection incredibly is entrusted to the mercy of utility companies. Exempting a hundred new coal plants and paying billions to Old King Coal leaves him, indeed, a very merry old soul. This bill is 85% different from what President Obama proposed months ago.

George Monbiot, author of the important book Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning, provides some of the best critique of the Waxman-Markey bill we have seen. Monbiot addresses the weak proposed carbon emissions cuts:

The cuts it proposes are much lower than those being pursued in the UK or in most other developed nations. Like the UK’s climate change act (pdf) the US bill calls for an 80% cut by 2050, but in this case the baseline is 2005, not 1990. Between 1990 and 2005, US carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels rose from 5.8 to 7bn tonnes.

The cut proposed by 2020 is just 17%, which means that most of the reduction will take place towards the end of the period. What this means is much greater cumulative emissions, which is the only measure that counts. Worse still, it is riddled with so many loopholes and concessions that the bill’s measures might not offset the emissions from the paper it’s printed on.”

Some of the concessions he identifies are to the biofuels industry, with promises not to investigate its wider environmental impact, concessions to agribusiness and of course the biggest concession being the Cap & Trade provisions. Environmental writer and activist Brian Tokar recently wrote that,

The much-touted cap-and-trade provision of the bill accounts for about a 1 percent reduction by 2020, according to the Center for Biological Diversity’s analysis, with the remainder coming from regular, old-fashioned performance standards for smaller pollution sources, including automobiles, and from a controversial USAID effort to reduce deforestation in poorer countries. For comparison, most wealthy countries agreed over a decade ago in Kyoto to reduce their emissions by 2012 to 6-8 percent below 1990 levels.

Cap & Trade is of course a market-based solution, which is supposed to provide “economic incentives” for polluting industries to reduce their pollution output. However, in reality, Cap & Trade policies will only exacerbate the problem and further create a gap between rich and poor nations in terms of the actual impact of climate change.

The Senate version of Climate Change legislation is not expected to break from the weak and concessionary policies of the Waxman-Markey bill. In August some 300 grassroots and environmental groups did send a letter to Senator Boxer laying out a vision for a meaningful Climate Change bill, but there is no evidence that the Boxer-Kerry version will embrace these demands.

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