The war over climate legislation in Congress is revealing just how far vested interests will twist the truth to protect their profits.
Ad campaigns are flooding television and radio, attacking supporters of the climate bill, claiming clean energy at home will ship jobs overseas, and even citing the same debunked cost estimates that an MIT author has repeatedly knocked down as "wrong in so many ways."
At the same time, the fossil fuels and energy industries are pouring millions of dollars into lobbying efforts and campaign contributions, and their politicians are busy hitting the media with fear mongering and occasionally bizarre arguments.
Take this opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels:
"Quite simply, it looks like imperialism. This bill would impose enormous taxes and restrictions on free commerce by wealthy but faltering powers – California, Massachusetts and New York – seeking to exploit politically weaker colonies in order to prop up their own decaying economies. Because proceeds from their new taxes, levied mostly on us, will be spent on their social programs while negatively impacting our economy, we Hoosiers decline to submit meekly."
Or this comment yesterday from Texas Rep. Joe Barton, who has promised that his Republican colleagues will flood the House Energy and Commerce Committee with
scores of amendments to continue watering down the bill:
"We'll see which of us has the other by the nuts next week."
At the vortex is a group of about a dozen key coal- and industry-state Democrats on the energy committee who could make or break the climate bill as it goes through markup over the next two weeks.
These Democrats, including Rick Boucher of Virginia, Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, and John Dingell of Michigan, have been busy extracting their own concessions for local industries, and stripping the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) to its bones.
The ACES bill that was formally introduced today still has a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions, and it still has a renewable energy standard. But the changes slash the targets for both and offer polluters a huge number free allowances that would have all been auctioned off. That rather defeats the purpose, as Republican Rep. Jeff Flake explained to McClatchy yesterday after he proposed a carbon tax bill:
"The first axiom of economics is if you want less of something, you tax it," Flake said. "Obviously, we want less carbon, so we tax it."
When Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey proposed the ACES bill, they started with a compromise intended to win over Congress's coal and industrial-state Democrats – it was a centrist, pre-negotiated bill based on a proposal by the industries and environmental groups that make up the U.S. Climate Action Partnership.
That wasn't enough for the nation's deep-pocketed polluters, though. They wanted more and still do, so they ratcheted up the pressure on their congressmen to demand more concessions or make sure it never leaves the committee.
The proposed bill we have today would let polluters buy huge amounts of offsets rather than actually cutting their emissions – up to 2 billion tons of emissions annually, close to a quarter of all U.S. emissions.
Then there are the freebies:
The bill as it stands rights now gives away 35% of the allowances to the electricity industry every year for the first decade – that's about 90 percent of the credits they would need. To try to avoid the sort of windfall that dragged down the EU's carbon trading system, the bill would require U.S. utilities to pass the savings on to consumers, according to a summary released today of the bill's allocations segment, and the freebies would be phased out between 2025 and 2030.
Manufacturers in steel, cement and other energy-intensive, trade-sensitive industries would get 15% of the allowances for free for the first 10 years. Natural gas distributors would get 9% for free for the first five years, and would also have to pass the savings on to consumers. The auto industry would get 3% for free for the first five years. Oil refiners would get 2% for free for the first 10 years.
Of the remaining allowances, 15% would be auctioned from the start with the proceeds going to help low- and middle-income families, according to the summary of the bill's proposed allocations.
Lawmakers have indicated that more giveaways are to come. For example, utilities that in the future are able to make use of so far unproven carbon capture and storage technology could get up to $100 billion in bonus pollution permits.
The bill's renewable electricity standard (RES) also took a serious whack to the knees.
Some of the swing Democrats complained the RES wouldn't be fair to states that lack the wind power of Texas and the sunshine of California. The original draft of the bill called for utilities to provide 25% of their power from renewable sources by 2025. The compromise cuts that to 15% by 2020, and as little as 12% if the state make up the difference with energy efficiencies.
The bill's greenhouse gas reduction targets already feel short of what the IPCC recommends, and now they fall even shorter: Emissions would be cut to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 (the initial goal was 20 percent); 42 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.
Environmental groups are urging Democrats to strengthen the bill as it makes its way through the markup process and then to the full House and Senate. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Public Citizen released this joint statement:
"We are extremely troubled by the reports coming out of the Energy and Commerce Committee last night on additional compromises to the already flawed American Clean Energy & Security Act.
"The world needs real leadership from Congress and the Administration to address global warming – action that will enable us to transform our economy with clean, renewable energy technology, new green jobs and show leadership internationally. If reports are true, the compromises being struck on the bill undermine these goals."