Rep. Henry Waxman expects his climate bill to hit the House floor in two weeks, and he called on environmental groups today to muster all their supporters to pressure Congress to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES).
"It's not a question of sometime; it's a question of now," the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee told a conference call. "We don't have years to waste. In terms of the global warming issues, we're hearing from scientists enormous alarm."
Waxman (D-Calif.) and ACES co-author Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) acknowledged that the bill required trade-offs.
As Waxman put it, the bill "sets strong environment goals and achieves them in ways that are acceptable to U.S. industry." Markey stressed that the bill would give clean energy the jump-start it needs to change how America gets its power: "We think that by 2025, this revolution will be running on its own. It's going to be a technological explosion."
The questions the two congressmen heard today, however, reflect that many environmentalists believe the ACES bill should be stronger.
The congressmen were asked about the bill's support for nuclear energy and for carbon capture and storage technology, about the watering down of the renewable electricity standard, and about the extensive offsets and the high volume of free pollution allocations for utilities and industry.
Author Bill McKibben, director of 350.org, asked Waxman and Markey what their next move would be once the bill was signed into law. How would they bring the nation's greenhouse gases down to levels in line with the recommendations of science to avoid catastrophic climate change?
Their answers to that question sounded promising:
"Once we put this in place, we'll have the opportunity to watch it very carefully and revise it, and if the science indicates a need to do that, we'll have to follow the science," Waxman said.
Markey added: "We don't intend on allowing this issue to go unattended."
There are still opportunities now in other House committees and on the House and Senate floors for changes to be made the ACES bill, for better or worse.
Earlier this week, the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council and 18 others groups called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to help strengthen the bill's renewable electricity standard and to ensure the EPA keeps its authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.
Greenpeace joined another group of environmental organizations in urging Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to strip away the climate bill's free pollution allowances and shift to a 100 percent auction, as President Obama initially recommended. Waxman's staff addressed that concern today, saying that a 100 percent auction could drive utility cost too high for consumers in some coal-reliant regions of the country.
Waxman and Markey are calling for full support, though.
If the House doesn't pass the bill, they said, the Senate won't act. The stars don't align like this very often, with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, an international treaty six months away, and a president who supports climate action. The nation can't count on the window of opportunity remaining open for long, they said.
"Henry and I would have begun working on this issue a generation ago," Markey said. "Unfortunately, we had an administration that, even after the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts versus EPA ... still had done nothing on the day they walked out of the White House.
"The United States is farther behind that we should be. We should have been a leader a long time ago. But we have to start where we are, and it's a shame that we do. The bill is going to be a strong bill considering the late start."
The congressmen have support. Al Gore's Climate Project volunteers have been out in force. Today, 19 U.S. businesses including Nike, Starbucks and several of the nation's largest utilities also issued a call for strong cap-and-trade legislation that will set ground rules for greenhouse gas emissions and put a price on carbon.
In a full page ad in today's Wall Street Journal, the business group writes:
"When it comes to preparing our country to compete in the clean energy economy, the U.S. is losing and we lag far behind our global competitors. Even as our inventors create new technologies, we often lose them to overseas markets that have supportive government policies and incentives."
"The reality is we can't afford not to act if we hope to compete and lead."
The ad's signers argue that setting an economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions will give all U.S. businesses clear expectations for the future, increase their efficiency and productivity, and spur investments in developing clean energy technology in the United States, rather than relying on imported innovations.
The utilities have the most at stake under a cap-and-trade system since power generators are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the nation. Still, some of the nation's largest power providers signed the ad: Pacific Gas and Electric, Duke Energy, Exelon, NRG Energy, PSE&G and National Grid, along with Avista and Austin Energy.
Four of them – PG&E, Duke, Exelon and NRG – are involved in the U.S. Climate Action Parternship, the business-environmental group collaboration whose compromise proposal became the foundation for ACES. (The ACES bill has since been watered down to give utilities free pollution allowances, lower requirements for renewable energy, and more leeway for operating coal-fired power plants.)
Also signing the ad were Nike, Hewlett Packard, Applied Materials, Starbucks, Symantec, eBay, Levi Strauss, Clif Bar & Company, Seventh Generation, Aspen Skiing Company and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers.
"Companies signing this ad see the future and recognize that the costs of inaction on climate change will greatly exceed the costs of action," said Mindy S. Lubber, president of the investor group CERES, which sponsored the ad.
"These companies see that the best path forward – for our future prosperity as well as protecting the environment – is to accelerate America's transition to a clean energy economy."
For the Aspen Skiing Company, global warming is the most significant long-term threat to the future of its business, said Sustainability Manager Matt Hamilton.
"While the impact on snow sports pales in comparison to the long-term consequences of climate change on low-lying nations, agriculture and public health, action by our industry can be a catalyst for encouraging implementation of national polices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Hamilton said. "We urge Congress to take significant action now."