Can we still draw a line on climate change?

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Jun 11, 2009 at 16:04

Earlier today, Speaker Pelosi reiterated that there are not enough votes in the U.S. House to pass health care reform unless there is a public option in the bill. This is because, more than two months ago, House Progressives drew a hard line on health care reform, indicating that they would not pass any health care reform legislation unless there was a public option. Clearly, Progressives are holding that line, given that Speaker Pelosi has reiterated on consecutive days that there are not enough votes in the U.S. House to pass health care reform without a public option.

Drawing this line was absolutely essential for Progressives (capitalized because it refers to the caucus, rather than to a loosely affiliated ideological persuasion.) Had Progressives not done this, they would have had minimal leverage in the health care reform fight, and it is likely that no public option would have been passed. Further, this would have been extremely damaging to progressive governance not only on health care, but really on all issues, given the many structural advantages in place for progressive governance on health care (reconciliation, widespread popularity of the legislation, massive progressive lobbying, etc).

Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change--which is the other main item on the Democratic agenda for 2009--no such hard line was drawn. As such, we are now getting reports about how climate change legislation continues to be watered down (more in the extended entry):

Chris Bowers :: Can we still draw a line on climate change?
Congress is all but abandoning President Barack Obama's goal of producing fully one-quarter of the nation's electricity from renewable sources - wind, solar and the like - by 2025, though a push for at least some increase is making headway.

Both the House and Senate are considering legislation that would establish the first national requirement for electric utilities to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy - from wind turbines and solar cells to biomass and geothermal sources.

To gain wider congressional support, the proposals have been whittled back. They now pale in comparison to what Obama repeatedly has maintained is feasible and necessary to shift the nation away from coal and other fossil fuels and to clean energy sources. This shift, he argues, is needed to combat climate change and make the nation more energy independent.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected on Thursday to approve energy measures that call for 15 percent of the country's power to come from renewable sources by 2021. A huge climate bill, likely to be considered in the coming weeks in the House, would require 20 percent renewable energy use by 2020.

Without a hard line from progressives, the momentum of the negotiations is entirely toward weakening the legislation. Further, given that this is the main Democratic agenda item that requires 60 votes in the Senate, as with the health care fight it also holds the promise of serving as a template for pretty much every other main Democratic agenda item from 2010-2012. If we can't pass meaningful progressive legislation on climate change, then we aren't going to pass meaningful progressive legislation on pretty much anything else that requires 60 votes. The model will have been set.

As such, if we want not only good legislation on a main agenda item for 2009, but also if we want meaningful progressive legislation on anything after 2009, we must engage the climate change fight with equal vigor to the health care fight. In all likelihood, this means repeating the health care model by finding some hard lines on the climate change bill that Congress must not be allowed to cross.

What's more, we need to do this fast. Climate change legislation is already well under way, having passed the relevant House committee a couple weeks ago. As the above report indicates, a much weaker bill is about to pass through the relevant Senate committee. If we are going to improve these bills, it must be done through amendments during floor debates, and through the conference committee process.

So, let's have a quick brainstorm session. What hard lines can we draw on climate change legislation? How can we get Progressives in the house and Senate to adopt those hard lines? And then, given that the debate is already under way, is it possible to, if necessary, retroactively enforce these lines in some fashion?

I honestly do not know what are chances are in this debate. However, given what is at stake, I do know that we have to at least try. Any thoughts in the comments are appreciated.

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climate change is very technical (4.00 / 2)
Aside from no clean coal subsidies, I'm not sure what hard lines can be drawn.

I think a better thing to try and swing might be the pending financial legislation bill, which should have plenty of clear lines, and is likely to suck without outside influence.  

I'd just make it no coal subsidies period (0.00 / 0)
Not only is there no such thing as clean coal, there's also no reason to subsidize any other coal.

[ Parent ]
Not sure I have any ideas (4.00 / 2)
but Waxman fought to get jurisdiction over this issue - he is tough and really knows the legislative process. I wonder if he would be interested in working with people on the outside here - he might know the technical stuff (what's worth fighting for) and the political end (where is pressure most likely to be effective.)

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

True. (4.00 / 1)
We'll probably be OK in the House. Waxman's on our side, and I'm hopeful Pelosi will have his back. The real fight will likely be in the Senate, where Republicans will try to destroy any final bill and Blue Dogs/DLCers will try to water it down to irrelevancy (see Warner-Lieberman). This is why we need to urge House members to strengthen the Waxman-Markey compromise NOW and get Senators to support a better bill (as opposed to more Warner-Lieberman nothingness).

Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in Nevada.

[ Parent ]
Lets face it ... (4.00 / 1)
once you needed 60 votes(thanks Harry!!) ... for climate change legislation .. it fell off the important things list .. not to mention .. there isn't the hue and cry for this as there is health care .. and of course the recession didn't help either

Let's face it... (4.00 / 1)
Green means green! Get what I mean? This is how we frame the issue when the radical right screams about "environazis killing the free market! Oh noezz!" A good energy plan will result in real cost cutting, real jobs created, and a real net benefit to the economy.

As I said downthread, both ACP & UCS have done a good job in refuting the "environmentalism hurts the economy" memes from the right. We seriously need to stop running scared and start standing our ground if we don't want to obliterate ourselves within the next 50 years.

Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in Nevada.

[ Parent ]
EPA and Timing (4.00 / 2)
Two thoughts.  First, the EPA already has the legal authority to do a fairly large chunk of climate change regulation on its own.  I'm think it could actually intact cap-and-trade without congressional approval; or at least a close approximation that is revenue neutral.  If and when Obama tries to apply pressure on congress, this will give him great leverage.

My second thought is on timing.  It may be wishful thinking on my part, but I think Obama is focused on health care now and will get back to climate change once health care passes.  In theory, that could be as soon as a few months from now, certainly by 2010.

If I'm right, I certainly don't mind knocking this off one at a time.

Now, I may very well be wrong about Obama's intentions.  This is where we need to apply pressure once health care passes.  Even if I'm wrong the two points apply if we can Make Obama Do It.

Hmm, I should read more, write less (0.00 / 0)
What's more, we need to do this fast. Climate change legislation is already well under way, having passed the relevant House committee a couple weeks ago. As the above report indicates, a much weaker bill is about to pass through the relevant Senate committee.

My skimming skills need improving, there is less time then I thought.  I was confusing what you wrote with another post on another site today.

The point about the EPA is still true, however.

[ Parent ]
Sorry for the Amber impersonation (0.00 / 0)
responding to my own comments over and over...

I was thinking of Yglesias' post when I wrote this, mixing the two together, mentally:

a good health care bill in 2013 and a good climate bill in 2009 would be a hundred times better for the world than a good health care bill in 2009 and a good climate bill in 2013.

[ Parent ]
The House bill, as currently written (0.00 / 0)
would remove the EPA's authority to deal with climate change. One of the many reasons it's a lousy bill.

[ Parent ]
Two thoughts. (4.00 / 2)
1)  Fast tracking and funding environmental review/approval of renewable energy projects.  As I understand it, there are numerous wind/solar projects that have applied for permits, but have to wait for the Department of Energy to approve their permits before they can break ground.  The backlog, as I understand, could take literally years to clear.  You can't create green jobs to assist in the recovery if the projects take years to clear.  The DOE should recieve a major increase in funding to speed up the review/approval process.  

2)  Energy efficiency "loans" for homeowners.  I can't find the article, or I would link to it, but there are several agencies that are now creating programs whereby energy providers (PG&E, for example) will actually pay the cost of improvements to a residence in order to make it more energy efficient.  The key is in how the money is repaid; the obligation adheres to the building, no matter who owns it, and it is not a deed of trust or other encumbrance on the title.  Instead, the utility company analyzes the usage of the building, and charges the building for the same energy usage as the building had prior to the upgrades; as a consequence, the utility bills are not increased to the owner, because they are only being charged as much as they would have been without the upgrades.  So, say your annualized monthly usage is 100 kw hours, and the upgrades increase your efficiency such that you now are only using 80kw/hrs per month; the utility company continues to charge for 100 kw/hrs/mo, and the excess is applied to the "loan" incurred to provide the upgrades.  This model doesn't require any additional out-of-pocket expense to the strapped owner, who doesn't want to take out a loan to invest in a property that they may not keep long enough to get the value of the efficiency upgrades, even if they wanted to borrow in this economy.  But, in order for this model to work, the utilities (or the Fed. Gov't) has to front the money for the efficiency upgrades.  This model could be used initially on commercial properties, and later expanded to residential buildings.  

UCS & Repower America (4.00 / 4)
Here's an idea:

UCS has a great blueprint that we should consider the platinum standard. Hopefully, the final bill will look mostly like this. However, I think the Alliance for Climate Protection's "Repower America" campaign has done a great job of articulating a few basic points...

And both can help us draw some clear "lines in the sand":

- require 25% of our electric power to come from renewable sources by 2025

- cut car emissions by 20% (from 2005 levels) by 2020

- ensure any "cap and trade" scheme has a "hard" carbon cap

- invest in in real renewables (solar, wind, biomass, tidal, etc.), NOT fake "solutions" like "clean coal" or nuclear

We should totally support Al Gore's & ACP's "Repower America" campaign, and we should adopt UCS' blueprint to provide some real specifics and draw our line.

Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in Nevada.

I guess (0.00 / 0)
The thing is, as Chris has said before, that any conceivable bill will be inadequate.  I don't have any faith that a bill to do something in 2025 or whatever means squat.  Why not promise full employment in 2025?

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

Beacuse full employment (0.00 / 0)
is not something that you can control like that without a massive spending program. Cap and trade however is a proven concept that can deliver results in the future.

Sorry if this comes out hostile but cap and trade and full employment are totally different concepts and if you can't understand the difference between them and how they work I would suggest reading up on them before you speak.  

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

[ Parent ]
And, in addition, (4.00 / 1)
climate change is a global issue, and unless the U.S. commits to a long-range target, other countries (like China) are unlikely to do it on their own.

[ Parent ]
RES of 25 by 25 (4.00 / 1)
is in my opinion the biggest line in the sand we should draw. That and no weakening of the energy efficiency section. Those two things will result in most of the short-term GHG reductions. The cap and trade part is important but in the first few years it will be fairly weak and it will be very hard and not worth it to try to make it stronger in the early years. RES and Energy Efficiency already have strong support and strong allies.

Plus the current RES will essentially do nothing so getting it stronger is a important step.  

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

What the stakes are (4.00 / 2)
Before this thread disappears from view, I'd like to go on record as stating (perhaps for some extra planetary civilization with a taste for minutia who chances on the wreckage of our civilization next millenium) the following:

The same bait and switch health care plan now being negotiated with the complicity of institutional progressives (such as Campaign for America's Future) is being applied to climate change.

But there is a fundamental difference: the absurd "public option" (likely amounting to a variant on the disastrous Massachusetts experiment being presided over by Obama pal Deval Patrick) will result in an enormous public subsidy to the insurance companies, a ballooning of costs and no reduction in the 18,000 yearly deaths resulting from lack of treatment (and probably tens of thousands more).

This is an ugly scenario but at least the damage is limited to those requiring health care and not receiving it. With respect to climate change, that the necessary actions-all well understood-are inconceivable in the political climate being presided over by President Hope and Change, means as a near certainty that my child's future will be spent trying to combat epidemic tropical diseases, competing for increasingly scarce water resources, likely dealing with frequent famines or near famines resulting from the evisceration of agricultural production, type 3 hurricanes routinely inundating what cities remain able to sustain themselves not to mention an estimated 200 million refugees to mention only a few aspects of what is almost surely in store for us-or I should say him.

There are times when moderation-going along with business as usual is suicidal.  Those who are complicit in failing to do what is necessary and those who apologize for those who do need to recognize-and be made to recognize- what the stakes are, and learn to take them seriously.

Frankly, I see almost nothing other than an almost unlimited capacity for denial on this issue.  Not surprising, I suppose, given its magnitude but no more defensible for that.

the Trojan Horse inside the climate change legislation (4.00 / 2)
here is one line in the sand - dont handcuff EPA. Environmental groups fought hard to win a Supreme Court victory in 2007 that confirmed EPA's ability under the Clean Air Act to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, and under Lisa Jackson, it has started that process.

It is little known that the Waxman Markey legislation strips EPA of that ability for any industry regulated by the bill - that is, almost anything.  So the representatives of the coal, utility and oil industries not only  managed to substantially lower the requirements for reducing CO2 and for renewables to below that is needed, they took away EPA's right to finish the job.

In my view, unless this comes out, we would be better off giving President Obama the full power to address climate change through the Clean Air Act. The standards there are MUCH tougher than what Congress is producing. Then industry would come to the table.

Scrap cap-and-trade, go with a carbon tax. (0.00 / 0)
Pass actual, strict regulations on polluters.  Make them pay for all cleanup out of pocket, with stiff fines for executives if they retaliate by layoffs, cut wages and hours, and cut benefits.

Another area of concern is the corporate mega-farm.  These are  huge agricultural trusts, and they must be broken up.  End the practice of storing waste in lagoons, barrels, and other means of storage that contaminate the surrounding areas.  Animal and plant waste may be converted to fuel or used as fertilizer.

Implement programs to replant forests, improve and expand protection wherever reasonable.

Invest heavily in alternative fuels, end the practice of ethanol-based fuel.  Research has shown that glucose may be used to obtain chemicals from which plastic may be made.  This is accomplished via a metal catalyst, and glucose can be derived from sawdust and straw, both byproducts of existing industries such as lumber and agriculture.

Implement mandatory recycling programs - that is, instead of dumping people are provided with bins for sorting glass, metal, plastic, paper, and organic waste.

Those are just off the top of my head.  Other areas to pursue include high speed rail and increasing not only fuel efficiency standards but expanding public transportation and carpooling.  A publicity or some other campaign can be enacted to encourage carpooling, mass transit, and other forms of public transportation.

Where are the enviro "movement" orgs? (4.00 / 1)
They're playing the same milquetoast, "This is the best we can do right now, so we'll work to get a better bill later," nonsense. They're playing the same game the congresscritters are playing. Problem is, this is a life and death issue, not a cozy argument about CAFE standards a decade from now.

Between them, they have millions of people and billions of dollars to play with and what are they doing? They're sending out a bajillion mailers a month about wolves, horsies, whales and raising money. But of all the dozens of mailers I get every damn month, none of them are about climate change... the one thing that will kill all those prized fundraisers.

I'm about to cancel a slew of memberships if they don't change their tune. Added peeve: I hate it when environmental orgs send me crap "gifts" that waste resources to raise money. Anyone need a tote bag? I've got tons of 'em!

But this has always been the problem with the environmental orgs. It's why I stopped working for them more than 15 years ago. It's all just about money.

(end rant)

So here's my suggestion, FWIW: progressives need to start calling those with the resources to jump all over this in a big way and start threatening to cancel their memberships with all the acronyms unless they get their shit together. If that were to happen, we'd see a monstrous increase in ad buys of high quality with which to start building public opinion.

If we can't get our own ducks in order on this, the biggest issue there is, then I don't know what to say.

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

Many nat'l orgs are NOT supporting this bill (4.00 / 1)
Groups including Friends of the Earth (where I work), Greenpeace, Public Citizen, the Center for Biological Diversity, International Rivers, Rainforest Action Network and others have been working hard to call attention to the myriad flaws in this bill. >Here's a shared public statement.

[ Parent ]
Thanks for that (0.00 / 0)
Although I still find this to be truly weak.

Writing a press release in response to something is not like getting in front of it, building public opinion and building support.

Is this the best these folks can do?

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

[ Parent ]
100% auction (4.00 / 1)
If a "cap and trade" structure is implemented, no permits to emit CO2 (or any other greenhouse gas) should be given away. Everything should be auctioned. That's the only way to avoid regulatory capture, and to make the plan fiscally sustainable. It's also an easy to express and easy to understand "line in the sand."

100 percent auction is crucial (0.00 / 0)
but once we get all those auctions (if we do), it'll be equally crucial to ensure the revenues are not just redistributed to the polluting industries they came from, which is a real possibility.

[ Parent ]
Can we also draw a hard line on murdering brown people for carbon? (0.00 / 1)

MoveOn, 1Sky, SierraClub, ACORN, Oxfam, USAction urge 3 amdmts (4.00 / 1)
1) Ensure more clean energy jobs for America: Wind and solar power create more than double the jobs that oil and coal do--high-paying jobs that can't be outsourced. But the current bill would not actually require any more clean energy than the status quo. We need to restore strong standards for cheap, clean, renewable energy, creating hundreds of thousands of new clean energy jobs.

2) Don't repeal authority to crack down on dirty energy: Current law allows standards to be set for global warming pollution from coal plants and oil refineries. But Big Oil and Coal lobbyists slipped in a loophole that would repeal these rules. This would open the door to more than 100 new dirty coal plants, crowding out the clean energy growth we need to create jobs and boost our economy.

3) Invest in clean energy jobs and eliminate hand-outs to Big Oil and Coal: The current bill wastes billions of dollars in subsidies for oil and coal that should be invested in clean energy jobs.

There is no such thing as a free market.

Shell and Duke Energy are two of the bill's many corporate supporters (0.00 / 0)
Duke Energy, btw, is trying to build new dirty coal plants as you read this.

Many other major oil corps and polluting utilities also support the bill.

That's a very bad sign.


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