More than 40 environmental and social justice groups called on U.S. senators today to declare their independence from big oil and other special interests and finally pass clean energy and climate change legislation.
“We need them to stand up for the workers in Arkansas building wind turbines, for the workers in Michigan building the clean vehicles that will cut our dependence on oil and help clean the air, and for people everywhere who are tired of padding the pockets of big oil instead of protecting the planet for future generations,” Sierra Club President Allison Chin told a crowd on the Capitol lawn.
“Most importantly, we need senators to move forward with a bipartisan, comprehensive clean energy and climate plan that means more jobs, less pollution and real energy independence and security for America."
She was joined by leaders of the NAACP, Rock the Vote, the National Resources Defense Council, Environment America, the Hip Hop Caucus and other groups in launching an Earth Day Revolution calling for climate and clean energy legislation from the U.S. Senate. Their campaign will stage rallies and lobby Congress as it counts down the 40 days to the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22.
“There’s never been a more urgent time to do this,” said Environment America’s Anna Aurilio. “The states have paved the way with strong requirements to cut pollution and increase energy efficiency and clean renewable energy such as wind and solar power. Where the states have led, clean energy jobs and pollution reductions have followed.”
Trade-Offs in the Push for a Climate Bill
Inside the U.S. Capitol, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) continued another week of meetings with industry representatives and fellow senators in an attempt to write a climate bill that could pass. As happened in the House last spring, the fence-sitters are demanding concessions for their own special interests, and the vote count doesn’t appear to be high enough yet for passage.
To get the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill through the House, the bills’ sponsors had to write in extensive free emissions allowances for the coal industry and special treatment for agriculture, demanded by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
In the Senate, Kerry and Graham have already reworked their framework to follow the Republican Party’s all-of-the-above approach toward energy production — they’re now embracing nuclear power, offshore drilling and carbon capture and storage, as well as clean energy and energy efficiency. How they’ll address emissions limits, once at the heart of the climate protection plan, is still being worked out.
Even those concessions may not be enough. Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska), who was among 14 senators at a White House meeting Tuesday with President Obama to discuss the bill, has said she might vote for the bill if includes opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling.
Sen. Joe Lieberman’s response to drilling in ANWR: “That is just not going to happen.”
What the Senate Is Talking About: Energy Efficiency
While the Senate isn’t talking about comprehensive climate legislation right now, it is focused this week on energy efficiency in the form of several stand-alone bills.
Members of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee today discussed President Obama’s proposed Home Star program, designed to provide incentives for home and building owners to put people to work installing energy efficiency measures such as better insulation and new doors and windows. Committee members had questions, such as how to give do-it-yourselfers like Murkowski’s husband a cut of that cash rather than requiring the money be used to put other people to work, but few beyond Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) sounded opposed to the program.
Another series of bills designed to strengthen the Department of Energy’s efficiency standards for such things as street lights, air conditioners and gaming consoles garnered only praise from the committee on Wednesday. Graham also joined fellow South Carolinian Sen. Jim Clyborn on Wednesday in introducing a bipartisan bill that would provide $4.9 billion in low-interest loans for energy efficiency improvements through rural electric co-ops.
The environmental and social justice groups calling for action from the Senate today want Congress to take the next step — energy efficiency is important, but so is a comprehensive climate bill that can successfully spur innovation and create a market for clean energy made in America.
A statement signed today by the groups reads:
"Since the first Earth Day began 40 years ago, and despite incredible progress on environmental protection, America has a failing energy policy that continues to reward polluters, undermines the health of the American people, threatens our national and economic security and keeps us dependent on energy sources from overseas.
"We call on the Congress to finally push aside the obstruction of the polluter lobby and stand with America’s Clean Energy Patriots. We call for America’s elected leaders to join us as Clean Energy Patriots and deliver on the promise of a clean energy revolution and climate action now."