Since it’s introduction last month, the Waxman-Markey climate change/energy bill has been in committee. To most people, the bill is being negotiated prior to vote by the Energy and Commerce Committee. To those who are closely following the bill’s progress, the process strikes us as less negotiation and more like watering down a few key details. Unfortunately, that was what I expected would happen after reading the bill’s summary. It didn’t start from what I consider the most appropriate positions (yearly emission levels, among others). Now it appears as though key provisions of the bill are suffering substantial hits in order to garner one additional vote here or there from House ConservaDems. Here are a few of the details:
Negotiations on the climate bill continue to focus on four key issues: the stringency and timetable of the cap-and-trade program’s emission limits, the use of offsets to ease industrial compliance costs, allocation of valuable allowances and the structure of a nationwide renewable electricity standard.
A deal is close to being made on the distribution of emission allowances that begins by giving away as much as 55% of the credits for free. That means industry would receive credits for free for 10-15 years before an auction system is fully brought online. Um, what’s the point then? If industry is allowed to continue polluting and using credits to count against that pollution for 10-15 years, it won’t matter how good that auction system would be – the climate system will likely have already passed several important tipping points. The worst effects of climate change would be locked into the system for hundreds to thousands of years – well beyond the insignificant time-frame that industry would be allowed to profit off of their polluting ways. Rep. Waxman is taking the role of good negotiator with the following:
While the final details remain to be worked out, Waxman acknowledged that he is comfortable with distributing credits for free as a way to help industries transition into a low-carbon economy and during the period when an international climate agreement takes shape.
As Joseph Romm points out at the post I linked to above, this might be alright if the allocations are required to sunset. I probably shouldn’t hold my breath expecting future Congresses not to tinker with that provision, however. Although, realistically, such a statement holds true for the legislation as a whole. Future Congresses can alter and update this legislation as they see fit.
More negotiation details:
Lawmakers are also narrowing in on a 2020 emissions limit, another central piece of a final agreement. Obama’s budget request suggested a 14 percent cut below 2005 levels by 2020, while Waxman had pressed for a 20 percent cut. Several of the Democratic moderates had initially suggested a 6 percent target for 2020, but Waxman balked at that proposal.
Butterfield [Rep. G.K. Butterfield, N.C.-01] said yesterday that he would be willing to accept Obama’s targets. “Let’s shoot for 14 percent,” he said. “I can live with 14 percent.”
This is an extremely poor decision, brought about by the initial weak proposal put forth by Reps. Waxman and Markey as well as the proposed number proposed by President Obama. 14% below 2005 levels almost gets us to 1990 GHG emission levels. Not concentrations, emission levels. Given the current state of climate research that I’ve read about in the past couple of months, this simply will not fix the crisis that is devleoping. We need at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. That might not be viewed as politically viable today, but when large portions of Rep. Butterfield’s district is covered by rising sea levels, perhaps he and other politicians will have a different opinion. The same goes for other Dems acting in the interests of the fossil fuel industry: when your districts bear the brunt of whatever changes you lock us into, will your constituents will be kind enough to thank you for looking out for industry and not them? The politics of the 20th century are not equipped to deal with the emerging crises of the 21st, that much is clear.
Cross-posted at SquareState.