Wednesday, June 10, 2009

climate conference call with Reps Waxman and Markey

Earlier today, I joined climate advocates across the nation on a conference call with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) to discuss the American Clean Energy and Security Act, otherwise known as the Waxman-Markey Bill or ACES. The call was co-sponsored by 1Sky and the Energy Action Coalition.

While Rep. Waxman rattled off some of the key provisions of the bill in his opening statement, Rep. Markey followed up with a grim report of Republican opposition--including references to green jobs as "sub-prime" jobs and "paper machete" jobs. Even more ominious, he explained the alternative plan generated by our friends across the aisle: more and more coal. Rep. Markey likened the climate-change skepticism and heavy coal initiative as "going from one pack of Camels a day to two packs of Camels a day."

However if Rep. Markey thought the only skepticism was coming from the GOP, he was mistaken. Climate advocates are wary of ACES, calling the renewable energy standards (RES) inefficient, offsets inadequate, the role of nuclear and coal questionable, and the helplessness of the EPA as unacceptable. The conversation was an hour long, but here are points that I found most critical:
  • In response to credits awarded to nuclear and the acceptance of coal as an energy source, Rep. Waxman reiterated that nuclear energy is not considered renewable. However, he did stress that the main goal of this intiative is to reduce carbon emission. If industries can reduce emissions while adapting coal use to new targets, that is acceptable. The objective is to keep pressing down on total carbon emissions. While both members understand that coal is a heavy contributor to emissions, so long as reductions are met, we are ahead of the game. In short, coal can be a part of our energy future so long as reductions are met, and the coal is produced on our own turf as a measure of domestic security.
  • In response to concerns that standards are not tight enough, the members explained that this bill simply provides a floor, but not a ceiling. The only exception is that, in terms of cap-and-trade, states must refrain from running their own cap-and-trade systems from 2012-2017 so that the national program can be put in place. During this time, however, states may tighten emissions standards. Under ACES, states will also receive money for research in efficiency and renewables.
  • In response to concern that ACES does not meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) targets, the members explained that the projected reductions of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 will actually be upwards of 23% in consideration of allowances aimed at preventing tropical deforestation. Rep. Markey also added that this is a first step--one that has happened far too late, thanks to the last administration--and that new bills considering current scientific findings will be introduced in years to come. These issues will be monitored as we go forward.
  • As for uproar that 85% of allowances will be given away for free to polluters under the cap-and-trade system, staffers asserted that this is an incorrect statement. The configuration of 85% of total permits awarded for free to polluters is inaccurate, because this number also includes allowances that will be given to individual states, consumers, and in helping businesses transition. Additionally, 100% auction would pass enormous costs onto consumers in electricity bills. The current initiative is aimed to ease the transition, which will currently cost Americans less than a postage stamp a day (unlike Republican claims that this will cost families thousands of dollars).
  • Vague answers include whether or not offsets, which can be purchased by companies as a means of meeting reductions, will undermine the bill through over-relying on offsets, incentives to create useless projects to produce offsets, or sub-par offsets. Staffers assured that the bill has 50 pages of detailed text to create quality offsets and agreements between countries to ensure that international offsets are as high in quality as domestic offsets.
  • Lastly, answers provided to explain the inability of the EPA to regulate coal plants were entirely unclear to me. Staffers explained that consensus and creating a coalition on this bill is key, and that performance standards for coal are going forward. When the recording of the conference is released, I will re-examine this issue. I heard no answer the first time around.
I will say that I am content with giving away some free allowances for the time being, with the understanding that these allowances will have a variety of recipients (and therefore retract my harsh criticisms against Obama on this issue), not just high-polluting industries. I get that coal is going nowhere fast, that we need to wait for a renewable market to kick in and emerging technologies to drive this process forward--but I am not satisfied by stripping the EPA of its authority. I am not sure of the details, so this is something that will be revisited on The Colonic soon.

Stay tuned!

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