The heavily negotiated Waxman-Markey climate bill lost the support of one of the world’s most powerful environmental groups today.
"We cannot support this bill in its current state," Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford announced a few hours after Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey formally introduced their American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES).
Two weeks of intense negotiations with coal- and industrial-state Democrats, each demanding changes in exchange for their votes, had skinned much of the value from the plan.
The ACES bill introduced today as HR 2454 still has a cap-and-trade structure and a renewable electricity standard, but both have been considerably weakened from the initial proposal, which was already based on a compromise between big businesses and environmental groups.
The current bill also falls far short of what science recommends to protect the climate. (See today’s earlier story for the background and more details)
Several major environmental groups voiced concerns about the compromises, but they continued urging Waxman and Markey to try to strengthen the bill as it goes through the markup period over the next two weeks.
Greenpeace, after reviewing the introduced bill today, went farther:
“Despite the best efforts of Chairman Waxman, this bill has been seriously undermined by the lobbying of industries more concerned with profits than the plight of our planet. While science clearly tells us that only dramatic action can prevent global warming and its catastrophic impacts, this bill has fallen prey to political infighting and industry pressure. We cannot support this bill in its current state.
"To avoid the worst impacts of global warming, the best available science suggests the United States and other developed nations together must achieve emission cuts of at least 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80-95 percent by 2050. But this legislation only sets a domestic target at approximately 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Even with additional measures elsewhere in the legislation, the U.S. effort would still fall far short of the science.
“With this weak start, it is clear that achieving the needed reductions would be impossible."
Radford listed several provisions of the bill that are "particularly egregious in light of the urgency of the global warming crisis."
The bill lowers the nation’s midterm greenhouse gas emissions targets to a level that would would cut emissions by only 4 to 7 percent below 1990 levels;and it weakens the renewable electricity standard so much that most states are likely to accomplish more on their own.
It also gives away pollution allowances to dirty industries rather than auctioning them off — in the case of utilities, it hands over enough allowances to cover 90 percent of their emissions for free. At the same time, polluters would be allowed to buy so many carbon offsets it could effectively eliminate real reductions of greenhouse gas emissions for over a decade.
The bill would also pour billions into unproven carbon capture and storage technology.
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope highlighted similar concerns earlier this week. As details of the proposal were leaking out, he wrote:
"It is clear that Big Oil, Big Coal and other polluters are still holding out for a Congressional bailout. They will continue to try to riddle this legislation with loopholes, water it down, and load it up with hundreds of billions of dollars in giveaways."
Carter Roberts of the World Wildlife Fund wrote that the bill made a positive step toward helping developing countries stop deforestation but that it didn’t do enough to help those countries transition to clean energy:
“We understand legislation as ambitious as this requires compromise. But we remain seriously concerned that the current draft does not go far enough in securing America’s clean energy future and falls short of what is needed to achieve a global agreement to manage climate change.
"Unless strengthened, this bill could undermine America’s ability to secure an effective international agreement during climate negotiations in Copenhagen this fall."
Joe Romm of Climate Progress approached the watered down bill with a sarcastic headline: "Waxman and Markey divvy up the goods — I wish my parents had given me allowances like this!" Nevertheless, he urged undiminished support for its passage:
"No doubt many environmentalists and progressives will be unhappy with the amount of money that appear to go to polluters. But in fact, most of that money goes to regulated entities, and the regulators can and will make sure that the money goes to consumers and businesses, as well as energy efficiency programs, and not windfall profits.
"The bottom line for me is that I just don’t see the allocations as a reason to oppose this bill or indeed as a reason not to strongly support it."
While other environmental groups continue to urge Waxman and Markey to strengthen the bill, Radford acknowledged that without immediate, extensive surgery, a worthwhile bill likely couldn’t be saved.
The Greenpeace director called on President Obama and leaders in Congress to go back to the science and write legislation that could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, shift the United States to a clean energy economy, and show that America could lead the world:
“Ultimately, with people in the U.S. and around the world looking for him to lead, President Obama needs to step in now and demand meaningful, science-based policy capable of addressing the climate crisis."
Photo: Greenpeace/Fred Dott