WASHINGTON—Barely a week ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assured West Virginia governor-cum-senator Joe Manchin that any attempt to control greenhouse gases via a cap-and-trade system is dead and six feet under.
Grassroots and left-leaning environmental organizations, however, claim the Nevada Democrat showed up nearly a year late to the funeral of the much-maligned, market-based measure. A majority of them aren’t mourning the evident demise of poor ol’ cap and trade.
For the most part, they abhorred the book-length version of legislation that Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey of Massachusetts cobbled together and the House eventually passed as the American Clean Energy and Security Act in June 2009. And they cringed at the versions of its evil twin that reared themselves afterward in the Senate.
While they united against compromised legislation, these more progressive green advocates aren’t unified on a single way forward on how to curb heat-trapping emissions—and if SolveClimate News's interviews of these groups is any indication, consensus will be hard to come by.
Ideas about strengthening the movement are still being floated and vetted. Many agree the focus needs to be outside the Capital Beltway and some want to incorporate civil disobedience into the mix. Others will continue to work the legislative angle in the U.S. Capitol’s corridors.
Sorting Through Cap-and-Trade Rubble
“What needs to emerge from the rubble of cap and trade is a program that makes polluters pay,” Damon Moglen, climate and energy program director for Friends of the Earth said. “Some of the money needs to go to the public and the rest should be used to develop policy and support renewables.”
Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace never jumped on the Waxman-Markey bandwagon. What sticks in the craw of so many of their fellow environmental advocates is that their well-heeled brethren such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council confidently led them down what they promised would be a rosy path toward cap-and-trade nirvana.
And many found it was too late to pull a U-turn when it became clear they were headed for what looked to be a hellish destination that was scientifically unsound and provided Wall Street with alarming amounts of Monopoly money.
“What’s changing now is that the climate movement is no longer willing to follow ‘Big Green,’ which they did before to some degree because they had the power and the money,” explained Tim DeChristopher of Peaceful Uprising in Utah. “There’s certainly an awareness that we need to build a serious movement. We need to use these two years where nothing will happen in Congress to take the focus off Washington and build a social movement.”
EDF and Big Green Take a Beating
Fred Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund, ignited a small-scale firestorm that’s still flaming after writing a 1,700-word missive for The Huffington Post last week vowing to ratchet up the fight for climate legislation by playing hardball with corporate polluters and the fossil fuels industry.
“First of all, that’s EDF being EDF,” Moglen said. “It’s the viewpoint of a single organization and not the voice of the entire environment movement … whatever that is.”
But another climate activist who had frequent dealings with Krupp’s organization—who asked that his name not be used so he could speak freely—was less forgiving.
“This is what Fred always says in front of more left and environmental audiences,” the source said in an interview, pointing out that EDF’s tagline is still, ‘We partner with businesses, governments and communities to find practical environmental solutions.’ “And he acts a certain way when he’s with Republicans. I would roll my eyes if anybody took this seriously.”
While those on Capitol Hill might look at the environmental movement as one entity, he continued, it’s ridiculous to include EDF because it categorizes itself as the triangulator and honest broker seeking common ground. He added that EDF should really be cast in a separate arena as a centrist activist group along the lines of the Democratic Leadership Council.
“People need to understand what EDF is and treat them accordingly,” he said. “If they were the environmental policy arm of Blue Dog Democrats’ caucus, I wouldn’t begrudge them that role.”
Cap and trade and market-based solutions were EDF’s “baby,” because the organization’s staffers had the “policy firepower,” he said, adding that Krupp’s employees are not nearly as well versed on renewable electricity standards and other regulatory solutions.
Calls to the Environmental Defense Fund seeking comment for this article were not returned.
One of EDF’s harshest critics is Rachel Smolker, whose now-deceased father, Robert Smolker, co-founded the organization decades ago during discussions in her childhood home on Long Island.
Smolker, an activist with the United Kingdom-based Biofuelwatch accuses EDF of being extremely cozy with industry and unwilling to listen to grassroots voices outside the nation’s capital.
“Cap and trade is a dangerous approach because it gives control to Wall Street,” she said in an interview from her Vermont office. “It’s the least painful and most profitable route for industry.”
Smolker is also active with Climate SOS, which borrowed a line from James Hansen when labeling the Waxman-Markey bill as “worse than nothing.” Hansen, who has been arrested for climate activism, heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.