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Some Thoughts On the Carbon 9

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As the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) of 2009 continues its way through the House now that it has been voted out of the Energy and Commerce Committee, a number of groups are examining who the potential supporters and opponents of the bill might be.  An obvious (perhaps too obvious) choice are the folks “in the middle” – folks who might vote either way on the bill.  Or the way I view things – folks who are going to hold critical legislation hostage until their special interest masters get what they want out of bill negotiations and amendments.  The real issue is who will have their operations restricted the most?  Again, an obvious answer is available: those who pollute the most.  As devilstower wrote 10 or so days ago, the U.S. isn’t carbon flat.  What that means is that there are some locations in this country that overwhelmingly contribute to greenhouse gas pollution.  Those locations will, of course, face the most necessary action to come into line with future pollution limits.  A recently published paper examines the distribution of carbon emissions across the U.S.  Here is one of their findings:

The variation in intensity of carbon emissions is extreme. Across 1,559 counties with at least 25,000 residents in 2002, the average carbon emissions per capita was 7.66 tons but with a median of 3.28 tons and a standard deviation of 16.9 tons.

For those not intimately familiar with statistical measurements, the standard deviation of a variable isn’t supposed to be five times as large as the median value.  One standard deviation away from the median yields a range of -13.62 to 20.18 tons.  That tells us that while there are plenty of low emitters, there are also a large number of very large emitters.  There are very, very large carbon emitters if you consider the 2nd deviation value of 37.08 tons.  That’s about five times the average – which in the large picture isn’t good news.  Those emitters need to reduce those emission rates.  Which is where we get to the ‘Carbon 9’ – a group of 9 Representatives in the House whose votes on ACES might or might not affect its ultimate passage in the House.

From Grist:

Four of the nine sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which passed the bill last Thursday, with two (Boucher and Hill) voting for it, and two (Melancon and Ross) voting against. The other Carbon Nine members say they are undecided, voicing concerns that the bill would slow economic recovery and transfer money from Southern and Midwestern states to coastal ones.

Well, that’s an interesting position to take.  Currently, money (i.e. taxes) is transferred from coastal states to Southern and Midwestern states. In fact, in 2005, the only non-coastal states who didn’t have more federal money transferred to them than they were taxes were Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota and Nevada.  Why is it not okay for Southern and Midwestern states to transfer money to coastal states but the reverse is just fine?  Why can’t Southern and Midwestern states pay for the programs and services they want?  Because it’s easier to take a free ride off somebody else than take responsibility for yourself.  Unsurprisingly, we hear more from Southerners and Midwesterners about ‘being my own person’ and ‘making my own way’ than from coastal staters.  Or how about how Southerners don’t want the federal government to tell them how to do things – they know best, after all.  Really?  I’d like to see Southerners and Midwesterners have the courage of their convictions and receive only what they’re taxed.  Walk the walk instead of jabbering away on the talk all the time.  If you don’t want to be taxed by the Big, Bad Ol’ Government, then you shouldn’t get other states’ tax monies to spend.  It’s absurdly hypocritical.

One of the choiciest quotes come from Rep. Charlie Melancon, (LA-03) [emphasis mine].

“I’d like to have a bill I could vote for,” said Melancon, who represents a southern Louisiana district where oil and natural gas drilling and refining are the chief economic drivers. “I need to be able to go home and say I protected the interests and the jobs of the people in my state and my district. So this can’t be an extreme piece of legislation. It needs to moderate our movement forward.”

There are lots of angles to this.  Louisiana, just like every other state, has given away land and provided tax exemptions to industry – in this case oil and gas drillers.  So they chose the industries they wanted in their state, knowing full well that the industry they were courting was dirty.  Melancon is protecting their interests by posing himself as a fence-sitter.  It garners attention to his district and helps solidify the perception that the poor oil and gas industries are just being picked on by folks who aren’t from the South.

But Melancon isn’t protecting the interest of the jobs (read: people) in his district.  If he were truly interested in them, he would have said something when the oil and gas industry was making record profit quarter after quarter up through this year.  I haven’t heard his name mentioned among those questioning how much profit a company makes at the expense of Americans.  How bad did $4 gas affect the residents of his district? Pretty bad, I bet.  Note the language he uses in the 2nd to last sentence: ‘extreme’ piece of legislation.  Anything that deviates from the status quo is extreme, I can assure you.

More than that though, Rep. Melancon’s time has already run out.  Look at the map at the top of his house website.  That district covers much of the land that has been affected by the limited amount of climate change we’ve already experienced.  That district will be among the most affected by the climate change effects that are all but guaranteed to occur in the near future.  It won’t take feet of sea level rise to make a good deal of the land in his district disappear.  It will take inches.  As land disappears, people will be forced to move further inland.  How has the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina (and Rita) back in 2005 gone, Rep. Melancon?  Are you fully satisfied with the efforts?  Has all the federal money been disbursed to the people of your district – the people you’re elected to represent?  Because in terms of scale, the 2005 hurricane season will be tiny compared to the full-blown effects of climate change under a business-as-usual approach, which you’re obviously pushing.

He outlined his policy concerns in a committee statement, advocating for increasing domestic production of fossil fuels, making domestic offsets more available, relaxing the definition of biomass under the bill’s renewable standard, and increasing funding for wetlands restoration for his coastal district.

Three of those four policy proposals are exactly what we don’t need.  Increasing domestic production of fossil fuels won’t solve the climate crisis – it will make it worse.  Emissions must be reduced – they must be reduced today, not tomorrow.  Increasing production won’t solve the job crisis either.  Oil and gas corporations aren’t stupid – they’ve spent millions of dollars making their operations more efficient – which mean they require fewer workers, not more.  That boost the profit margin on their drilling.  That’s what corporation exist to do: make profit, not employ people.  Rep. Melancon is also either aware or is maliciously withholding the fact that clean energy production employs more workers than does dirty energy production.  If he was so concerned about jobs, he would push clean energy production to the exclusion of anything else.  Since he’s not, his true concerns are laid bare: help out the dirty energy industries.

I’ve written before how emission offsets shouldn’t be made free to the worst polluters – it doesn’t force them to shift their behavior, the very thing the offsets were designed to do.  Rep. Melancon wants to weaken the definition of biomass – to get industries in his district a bigger slice of the funding pie that will follow the programs enacted under this legislation.  That’s not looking out for his constituents’ interests.

I wholly support increasing wetlands’ restoration funding.  Wetlands restoration will work to undo some of the damage we’ve caused to them in the first place.  It will help reduce the potential for future destructive hurricanes to come ashore and directly impact the landmass with their storm surge.  Although, given everything else he wants to change in the bill, it might not make much difference.  Continuing along the path we’re on, the Gulf of Mexico’s waters will continue to warm throughout this century.  That will dramatically increase the odds of a major hurricane making landfall along the coast – such hurricanes will be stronger and could come ashore more often, thanks to our polluting ways.

It will likely take those effects taking hold before 20th century politicians like Rep. Melancon to respond to the threats facing his district and his constituents.  Will the influence of the oil and gas industry remain more important at that time?  It looks like we’re going to find out, whether we want to or not.  American citizens along the east and west coasts have largely decided that they’d rather act than face the effects of a rapidly changing climate.  The oil and gas industry, among others, have largely decided that they’d rather not act – that next year’s profits are more important than next century’s survivability.

I certainly don’t want the ‘Carbon 9’ to continue to negatively impact this bill.  It’s weaker than when it was introduced.  At its introduction, it was weaker than what is needed, based on the most recent science results.  Is something better than nothing?  Sure it is.  But at what point does ‘something’ not differ enough from the status quo?  Where are the advocates of this bill – I want to hear about them pushing the best policies forward and not allowing people like Rep. Melancon insert their corporate controllers’ wishes.  I guess I’ll have to wait until more disasters unfold before Rep. Melancon and others change their ways.

Cross-posted at SquareState.


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