The Climate Bill Will Continue To Be Watered Down

by: Chris Bowers

Mon May 18, 2009 at 12:00

When the original draft of the The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES), was introduced on March 31st, it was considered good, though far from perfect, by most progressive climate change analysts and organizations. Climate Progress gave the bill a B+ (whatever that means). Greenpeace wrote that the bill was a first good step, must that it must be strengthened. The Sierra Club called it a "strong start." Friends of the Earth issued a more mixed reaction.

Last week, as part of a pre-markup deal, the already imperfect ACES was watered down a bit more. In response, Climate Progress lowered its grade, and several environmental groups issued an angry joint statement. The Sierra Club has vowed to "strengthen" the bill. Dave Roberts hoped that it can be strengthened in the Senate.

However, in all likelihood, the ACES will never be strengthened beyond its current form. All of the progressive climate change groups listed above would do extremely well just if the bill did not get any worse. This is because there are several more hurdles for the bill to leap, which I attempt to describe in detail in the extended entry.

Chris Bowers :: The Climate Bill Will Continue To Be Watered Down
Before the ACES even reaches the conference committee, there are numerous opportunities for it to be watered down even further:

  1. The House Energy committee's markup of the bill begins today. Republicans on the committee have prepared an absurd 450 amendments to the legislation, and might even force committee chair Henry Waxman to read the entire 650 page bill into the record. This simultaneously is an attempt to delay the legislation as long as possible (at least into the summer), and to alter the bill in any way possible before it leaves the committee and is voted on by the full House. It stands to reason that some of the 450 Republican amendments will be added to the bill.

  2. Once the ACES finally leaves the Energy committee (committee chair Waxman claims he has the votes), it will go to the Rule committee. Republicans will doubtless attempt similar delaying tactics at that time, and / or to attach enough amendments on the bill so that the delaying tactics can be repeated on the full floor of the House. Just how long the bill is delayed is important politically. Democrats want a floor debate and vote in the middle of a hot summer, while Republicans want to push it off into at least the autumn.

  3. After the Rules committee, the ACES will finally reach the full floor of the House. Dave Roberts insightfully points out that the Energy committee is composed of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, from high carbon producing districts. As such, he argues that, if anything, the committee is to the right of the floor.

    However, there are good reasons to be pessimistic about the bill being further watered down via amendment once it reaches the House floor. Many Democratic members, such as Melissa Bean, don't have fixed positions on legislation but are, instead, moderate for the sake of moderate. That is, they believe the best legislation is always to the right of whatever comes out of a Democratic controlled committee, no matter what that legislation actually says. As such, these members, such as Bean, always work to water it down, no matter what. The over-rising principle is not any particular position on climate change or new energy, but instead to show that you are a Democrat who is to the right of most other Democrats.

  4. Next, once a further watered down version of the ACES finally passes the House, the Senate will take up the legislation. There is a 100% chance that the Senate will weaken the legislation even further. Already in 2009 the Senate has weakened, or defeated entirely, the stimulus bill, the budget, housing legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, bailout reform, executive compensation, a truth commission, and really every single piece of legislation coming out of the House. It will happen again with climate change and energy security.

    Unlike health care reform, the 60-vote rule is in effect for the ACES. When the original ACES draft was released, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin immediately said he didn't have 60 votes. This much was obvious, given that when the Senate voted on much, much weaker climate change legislation in 2008, only three Republicans (Collins, Snowe and the retiring Mel Martinez of Florida) crossed over to vote for it. Conversely, four Democrats, Sherrod Brown, Byron Dorgan, Tim Johnson, and Mary Landrieu all voted against it. There were also a substantial number of Senators who did not vote (16), including nine seats that are currently held by Democrats (including Al Franken's). No matter how you look at it, we are starting in a hole well below 60 seats.

Given this, the only question is not if the bill will be weakened, but how much it will be weakened by. The best case scenario is, first, if it is passed out of the House with no further downgrades, and then if most of the changes made by the Senate are restored in the conference committee. That is possible, though extremely difficult.

In its current form, the supporters of the bill claim, that, in 2020, it will reduce United States greenhouse gas emissions by 17% of 2005's level. It is likely both that the bill will not actually meet its purported targets, and that the bill, when finally passed, will have a lower overall target than 17%. Still, there is hope that the bill, when combined with the economic downturn, peak oil, and stronger climate change action in other countries, will help keep 21st century temperature increase at only 2.5 degrees Celsius or lower. That is still a disaster, but at this point everything we do is about mitigating disaster, not stopping it.

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The bill is not 650 pages, but rather 932. (0.00 / 0)
I saw my brother-in-law this weekend, who is an environmental lobbyist for one of the major organizations. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to divulge much- I'm not really sure on that, so I'll play it safe,- but I can comfortably assert that there was a tremendous amount of swearing in the rare moments between his phoning and texting.  

Should've used Overton Window (4.00 / 1)
This is a great example of a situation where the Overton Window concept should have been used in the legislative drafting process.  Had Waxman pushed a harder line in the original draft, the compromise position could have been the version that ended up as what is now the first draft.

Unfortunately, the climate change crisis is so far off the political radar that significant action by this Congress is highly unlikely.  It seems as though it would take something like another disastrous hurricane to bring the issue to the forefront.  Obviously, we don't want that to happen.  But, it may be time for major environmental organizations to re-tool their efforts to publicize this issue.

you would think all the green campaigning by Gore (0.00 / 0)
and all the popular green websites like treehugger would push the overton window somewhat.  Maybe the legislatures just don't care about anyone but their donors, and people who can give them or cost them money.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
Would It Be Better For Environmental Groups To Put More (0.00 / 0)
efforts on the states.  Sorry, I am still missing something hear:  will CA, for instance, allowed to police their own emissions?  

Clarifications and Analysis - take heart, it's not as bad as it looks! (4.00 / 1)
I had the privilege of attending a small public meeting with NY Rep. Weiner, a member of the Energy Committee, before he headed back to Washington to begin work on the bill.  

I was able to ask some detailed questions about the process from here, likely markups, etc.  

This conversation cast some light on what we may expect next, and is a bit rosier than your assessment, Chris.  

Rep. Weiner showed a nuanced understanding of the ACES bill (discussion draft available here, summary memo here), and he agreed that the weakened provisions (two important ones - lowering the 2020 goal to 17%, and giving away up to 57% of emissions auction proceeds for free to dirty industries) move the bill "from somewhere between great and good, to somewhere between good and acceptable."

Rep. Weiner emphasized (as has Joe Romm, who revised his assessment from a B+ to a B-... as has Al Gore, who has suggested that it's significant on the scale of Civil Rights and New Deal legislation of bygone days) that this bill is still close to the strongest politically feasible piece of legislation they can pass right now, and that it still packs a helluva punch as a "foundation" (President Obama's framing in his web address this weekend) for a new energy future and a path to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.  

~ ~ ~

Remember the following:
1) Some consequences of climate change are now inevitable and are already in motion, thanks to how badly we've screwed up - this bill can't entirely prevent that any more than a really terrific bill could.  

2) Though the huge emissions permit giveaways do, unequivocally, suck, they also currently "sunset" in 10-15 years, at which point all giveaways cease - this language has survived all compromises so far, thank goodness.  

3) Chris' overall estimate of the emissions reductions to be gained by 2020 is off by about 10%, thanks to some excellent language assigning some of the emissions auction proceeds not going to Big Energy but to "reforestation" projects in the global south - resulting in some seriously underestimated bang for our bucks.  The WRI and Joe Romm have both covered this in some detail.  

4) A "terrific" climate bill has never yet been politically feasible, nor has climate legislation as ambitious as the current watered-down bill ever before made it this far, nor was this legislation itself ever intended to be the endpoint, a silver bullet - climate champions in Congress and in advocacy groups have always seen it as a starting point.  

In other words, even with a 25% by 2020 goal and a 100% auction of emissions permits with no giveaways (arguably the best case cap-and-trade scenario mentioned), we still wouldn't be out of the woods, and would still need a lot more policy leadership on a wide range of issues - fuel economy (thanks Obama for today's big news!), transportation policy and planning, power plant construction and no new coal plants, etc. etc.  These are at least as important, if not more important, than pricing carbon - pricing carbon is important too, and makes these other tasks less difficult.  

~ ~ ~

But back to the meeting today.  After the event, I followed up on my complaint that the 57% giveaways to polluters were just too high a price to pay, even if some would be politically necessary.  

Weiner indicated that he'd left this out of the full q+a session, but that he had reason to be hopeful that the bill would actually be strengthened in reconciliation with the Senate, rather than weakened.  I know this is at odds with our recent experience with the Senate, but apparently Pelosi is likely to put the correct House members on the reconciliation panel, and he knows better than we do what's going on in the Senate on this issue - so that's some cause for cheer as well.

Hope this helps clarify some of where we are right now...

on pricing carbon -- why is it important? why does commoditizing pollution in any way help on this? (0.00 / 0)
why do they refuse to fiscally punish polluters and/or force them to change their processes and methods, etc?

why does everyone accept the total bs "politically feasible" line as an excuse why real (and good) things CAN'T be done -- on this -- and ALL issues?

[ Parent ]
& very related -- my QH on this new "market" -- (0.00 / 0)
Carbon swaps = big bucks (Goldman's already in) --

Blue Source LLC, is at the vortex of a growing, but controversial, voluntary carbon emissions offset sector advocated by strategies that serve as one of the cornerstones of the Obama administration's energy policy..

Proponents, such as Townsend and Spencer, claim carbon trading has the potential to cleanse millions of cubic tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, while providing a bridge from a carbon-based economy to a future where energy comes from hydrogen fuel cells, solar, wind or some other technology yet to be discovered.

Critics contend that carbon trading simply
pushes pollution from one place to another, and that although strides have been made, the market-based technique for controlling global warming hasn't lived up to promises.

... The voluntary approach has not succeeded in doing that," said John Coequyt, senior Washington representative for The Sierra Club.

Market emerges » A carbon market has emerged in the United States, even though Congress has not enacted caps on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Polluting companies buy offset credits, a financial derivative generated from emissions reduction, principally to get ahead of regulations they expect Congress will eventually impose.

Globally, the market for trading emissions reductions is expected to reach close to $670 billion in 2013, according to SBI Reports, a market research firm. The U.S. market could be about $100 billion.

An energy bill introduced last month by Democrats Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, could spur domestic carbon trading further. It would establish a market-based program to reduce global warming pollution, possibly modeled on the strategy Blue Source developed.

The Waxman-Markey bill has pushed the intensely private Townsend and Spencer into the limelight. ...

in November investment bank Goldman Sachs acquired an equity stake, while also promising to market Blue Source offset credits to its clients.  ...

[ Parent ]
Plenty of them are rejectionist amendments (0.00 / 0)
You can find a list of the amendments here: http://wonkroom.thinkprogress....

About 200 out of the 450 proposed amendments are poison pills. They do things like revoke the bill if it's found to cost more than X amounts of jobs in a given state, or grant exemption to states, or make the bill sunset every year. Ridiculous shit that's as good as killing the bill. It's worth looking to see how many votes these ones get. That'll determine whether or not the votes for a real bill are there.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

Re: The Climate Bill Will Continue To Be Watered Down (0.00 / 0)
Lots of people today are in need of financial assistance. That's why payday loan industry has been in demand through the years. At last, the CRL takes a stance with what resembles a common sense approach; a call to action regarding something to do with the problem.  (Now we have to deal with the horsemen, the rain of fire, and the end of days.) The CRL, or Center for Responsible Lending, has taken aim at credit cards by sponsoring HR 627, or the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009.  The Credit CARD Act, as it's called, could ensure more fairness in how card companies deal with customers, and limit things like hidden fees and retroactive interest rate increases.  President Obama is on board.  The CRL not going after installment loans and targeting an actual predatory lender - it's about time.


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