Lowell Feld NRDC Action Fund
Just when you thought the U.S. Senate couldn't do any less for clean energy and the environment than it's (not) done so far, we now face the real possibility of what would amount to a "stop-work order" on the 40-year-old, wildly successful (e.g., studies finding benefits outweighing costs at a 40:1 ratio), Clean Air Act.
That's right: believe it or not, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is moving ahead with a sequel to Sen. Lisa Murkowski's nefarious attempt, earlier this summer, to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s power to protect the public health from dangerous pollutants, including harmful greenhouse gases. Just as bad, Rockefeller's proposal would keep America addicted to oil and other old, polluting energy technologies, while delaying or derailing our switch to a clean, prosperous energy economy.
Essentially, what Rockefeller is proposing would tell the EPA – at least for two years, although we know that justice delayed is often justice denied! - that it has to be asleep at the switch, that it must not hold polluters accountable, that it must look the other way whole Big Oil and Big Coal trash the environment. Is that the lesson the Senate learned from the Gulf of Mexico disaster? Really?
Fortunately, not everyone is so clueless as the U.S. Senate appears to be right now. For instance, in yesterday's Politico, two energy investors – one Democrat, one Republican – explained what's at stake in clear, compelling language.
This is the first in what will be a continuing series by the NRDC Action Fund on the environmental stances of candidates in key races around the country. Today, we examine Virginia’s 5th Congressional district, a district - stretching south from Charlottesville to the North Carolina border. Currently, the 5th CD is represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by Tom Perriello (D).
Where does Rep. Perriello stand on clean energy and environmental issues? In 2009, Perriello received a 71% rating from the League of Conservation Voters. Perriello also voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) and has "touted development of a clean energy economy as a way of creating jobs; improving energy efficiency; increasing this country’s energy supplies and sources and reducing reliance on foreign energy, which also would benefit this country’s national security; and other benefits." With regard to his ACES vote, Perriello says that he "believes there are ‘huge upsides’ in manufacturing and agriculture in a clean energy economy." As the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, Perriello is exactly right about the agricultural sector, as "Wind, solar, and biomass energy can be harvested forever, providing farmers with a long-term source of income." And, as California’s experience has shown, Perriello is right about the manufacturing sector as well.
Perriello does, however, favor some things that many environmentalists disagree with. For instance, Perriello says he supports an "’everything and the kitchen sink’ national energy strategy that includes an expansion of oil drilling." On the other hand, it should be noted that Perriello’s support for oil drilling comes in the context of his overall support for "using market-based solutions to create a carbon-limited economy."
According to The Hill newspaper, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) "is introducing legislation to expand use of renewable electricity and transportation fuels that she says is a way to increase political support for broad energy legislation among farm-state lawmakers." Reuters adds that Klobuchar's legislation would promote "a long-term extension of biofuel tax breaks." Klobuchar says, "it is time to look at home-grown energy and that includes biofuels and they should be part of this."
At first glance, that all sounds innocuous enough, but there's a major problem: Sen. Klobuchar is (cleverly) baiting the hook with a strong Renewable Energy Standard, which most environmentalists support, but at the same time she's also including the worst of the worst biofuels proposals – corn ethanol. For instance, as Nathanael Greene of NRDC points out, Klobuchar's proposal includes a 5-year extension of the corn ethanol tax credit, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $30 billion. Klobuchar's legislation also appears to redefine old-growth forests as "biomass," potentially promoting deforestation. And Klobuchar's legislation would harm the development of truly advanced biofuels, in favor of corn ethanol. There's more, but that's sufficient to give you a good idea of how misguided and potentially harmful this bill happens to be.
More broadly, the problem is that promoting corn ethanol actually would set us backwards on our climate and clean energy goals. NRDC has written a great deal about corn-based ethanol, most of which is not flattering.
On June 10th, we all celebrated the defeat of the Murkowski resolution, which would have gutted the EPA's ability to regulate carbon dioxide pollution. Why we needed to defeat Murkowski was explained well by NRDC Action Fund Executive Director, Peter Lehner, who wrote the following prior to the vote:
EPA's proactive lead in greenhouse gas regulation is a critical aspect of the effort to reduce our rampant, destabilizing, and destructive dependence on foreign and offshore oil. While the endangerment finding does not, in itself, prescribe regulations, it provides the legal basis for critical standards: EPA's proposed CAFE efficiency standard for light-duty vehicles is projected to save over 455 million barrels per year, and an anticipated standard for heavy-duty vehicles will save billions more. Stripping EPA of its authority to implement these protections would increase our nation's dependence on oil and send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas. We cannot afford this big step backward, especially as we watch more oil gush into the Gulf each day.
In the end, the Senate didn't take that "big step backward" on June 10th, as the Murkowski resolution failed by a 47-53 vote. Many of us probably figured that was the end of this issue, and that the Senate would now move on to passing comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. Unfortunately, as is often the case in Washington, DC, it isn't that simple (let alone logical).
Today, clean air and public health are once again under an assault that constitutes, essentially, "Murkowski Part II." The Wall Street Journal reported on June 22:
Thanks to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, we now have every member of the Virginia congressional delegation on record with regard to climate change. Here's a synopsis of their responses, with commentary regarding each of their positions on this crucial issue as it comes up for debate in the U.S. Congress.
Sen. Mark Warner (D) hasn't had to vote on a Senate climate and clean energy bill, but he clearly "gets it" when it comes to this issue. Warner's statement for the Times-Dispatch is generally excellent, talking about the "overwhelming science" of climate change; the "real threat" from both climate change and our addiction to oil "from countries that are anti-American;" the tremendous opportunity afforded by the clean energy sector; and Warner's openness to "a price on carbon" and to "cap and trade." The main item that's potentially of concern from an environmentalist perspective is Warner's comment that "coal's got to be part, is a huge part of the mix." Given that coal has the highest carbon content of all fossil fuels, the key here is going to be whether economical, technologically feasible "carbon capture and sequestration" technology is developed, and when. On that issue, there's a great deal of debate and a wide range of estimates. NRDC's position is that "pay-for-performance CCS subsidies are an appropriate hedging strategy or that it's just the price to pay to get the US off the dime on cutting carbon pollution." Anyway, the bottom line is that Mark Warner understands this issue and appears willing to do what it takes to address it. I look forward to Mark Warner voting "yea" on a comprehensive, clean energy and climate bill, sometime in the near future!
Sen. Jim Webb (D) is absolutely correct that "[r]esponsible energy policies have the potential to reduce carbon emissions, provide energy security and create alternative energy jobs for our local communities." Webb's also right that "the temperature increase since the late 1970s has been mostly due to the increase in greenhouse concentration resulting from such activities as fossil fuel burning and deforestation." In addition, it's great that Webb voted against the heinous Murkowski, "Dirty Air" amendment to gut the EPA's authority over regulating carbon pollution. The question now is, will Webb vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation? It's hard to tell from his answers to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Another question for Webb is whether he will oppose a "Murkowski lite" approach to pare back the EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions. On both of these questions, we'll find out the answers in the next few weeks. In the meantime, please contact Sen. Webb and send the message that you want him to support comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation.
Clearly, four Virginia Representatives -- Bobby Scott (D-3rd), Tom Perriello (5th), Jim Moran (D-8th) and Gerry Connolly (D-11th) -- are superb when it comes to clean energy and climate legislation. For starters, all four clearly understand that human activity is dramatically, and dangerously, heating up our planet. In addition, these Congressmen have put their votes where their rhetoric is, supporting the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) that passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 219-212 on June 26, 2009. Thank you to all four Congressmen for showing leadership where it really matters - on protecting our planet for future generations, as well as for our own!
The position of Rep. Rick Boucher (D-9th) on clean energy and climate legislation is probably best described as "complicated." To begin with, it's important to recognize that Boucher represents a district that is heavily based in "coal country." Thus, it is not surprising that Boucher's believes "Congress must act by adopting its own regulatory program that ensures a strong future for coal, allows utilities to continue burning coal and preempts EPA regulation in any manner inconsistent with the Congressional direction." On the other hand, Boucher not only voted for ACES, but was a leader in crafting the legislation (some would argue, in watering it down and in adding provisions highly favorable to the coal industry). In addition, Boucher supports "the same kind of market-based trading mechanism which was successfully used in controlling sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants in 1990." In other words, Boucher supports a market-based "cap and trade" system, which worked extremely well in slashing sulfur emissions and acid rain back in the 1980s and 1990s. Overall, Boucher represents a mixed bag from an environmental perspective, but perhaps the best we can expect given the politics of his district.
Freshman "Blue Dog" Rep. Glenn Nye (D-1st) acknowledges that global warming "is a real and serious problem, and [that] we must work to correct our current energy practice." Unfortunately, having acknowledged the problem, Nye does not appear to support any serious measures to address it. For instance, Nye voted against ACES, despite the fact that his district is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, has no significant fossil fuel interests, and has an economy that's heavily dependent on the tourism industry and the U.S. Navy, both of which are concerned about the potential harm caused by climate change.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) acknowledges that human-caused global warming is "real" and urges "a comprehensive, bipartisan response to address climate change." The problem is that Wolf opposes any serious measures to solve the problem. For instance, Wolf voted against ACES last summer when it passed the House of Representatives by just 7 votes. Instead, Wolf supports Randy Forbes' gimmicky, "New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence," which relies on a series of prizes "to a private entity" in a number of areas. That's fine in and of itself, but it doesn't seriously address the massive, complex, intertwined problems of climate change and our "oil addiction." In the end, the "New Manhattan Project" constitutes nothing more than an unhelpful distraction from the main challenges at hand.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-7th) writes that "One of the realities of the 21st century is a changing climate and environment." He adds the (true) statement that "Our economic and environmental security demands that we diversify energy sources." Cantor believes "the effort to deal with climate change must achieve meaningful environmental benefits and should rely on technological advancements and consumer choices rather than mandates and bureaucracy." The problem is, Cantor then rejects ACES and other strong measures to deal with this issue. He also calls "cap and trade" a "massive bureaucratic" response, even though Cantor must know that it's very similar to the conservative Republican-inspired, market-oriented, and highly successful response this country took to acid rain back in the 1980s. As for cap-and-trade constituting a "massive energy tax," that claim has been debunked time and again. In addition, if Cantor is so concerned that putting a price on carbon would be burdensome to consumers, then you'd think he would support a revenue-neutral carbon tax that returns all the money to taxpayers. But he doesn't. Instead, he supports the "American Energy Act," which relies heavily on increased oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, expedited construction of more oil refineries, more nuclear power plants, increased production of dirty oil shale, even opening up the Arctic for drilling. This is, quite frankly, the exact opposite of a solution to climate change. It is also the opposite of any serious effort to break our "oil addiction."
About the only positive things you can say about Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1st), Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th), and Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-6th) is that they don't appear to be outright climate change deniers. On the other hand, several seem to flirt with the climate change "skeptics." For instance, Rob Wittman talks about how "these climactic cycles of heating and cooling have been going on well before man appeared on earth." Randy Forbes - author of the gimmicky, "New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence" (see above) - says "there is evidence among scientists and researchers pointing in both directions." Robert Goodlatte says only that "some experts concur that the earth is once again warming," when in fact it's nearly unanimous. Other than that, though, they have basically nothing to offer on this issue, voting against ACES and everything else that might actually address the problem.
Those are the positions of the Virginia Congressional delegation on climate change issues, plus the NRDC Action Fund's analysis. It would be great if newspapers in other states published similar statements on this issue from their Congressional delegations so we could analyze them as well.
This exoneration should close the book on the absurd episode in which climate scientists were unjustly attacked when in fact they have been providing a great public service. The attacks on scientists were a manufactured distraction, and today's report is a welcome return to common sense. While scientists can now focus on their work, policy makers need to address the very real problem of climate change.
Well said, Congressman, and keep up the great work, Professor Mann!
Next, just to pound the final nails into the coffins of the climate change deniers, a major, independent review by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency was released on July 5. The report's main conclusions were crystal clear:
John B. Henry was hiking in Maine's Acadia National Park one August in the 1980s when he first heard his friend C. Boyden Gray talk about cleaning up the environment by letting people buy and sell the right to pollute. Gray, a tall, lanky heir to a tobacco fortune, was then working as a lawyer in the Reagan White House, where environmental ideas were only slightly more popular than godless Communism. "I thought he was smoking dope," recalls Henry, a Washington, D.C. entrepreneur. But if the system Gray had in mind now looks like a politically acceptable way to slow climate change-an approach being hotly debated in Congress-you could say that it got its start on the global stage on that hike up Acadia's Cadillac Mountain.
People now call that system "cap-and-trade." But back then the term of art was "emissions trading," though some people called it "morally bankrupt" or even "a license to kill." For a strange alliance of free-market Republicans and renegade environmentalists, it represented a novel approach to cleaning up the world-by working with human nature instead of against it.
Despite powerful resistance, these allies got the system adopted as national law in 1990, to control the power-plant pollutants that cause acid rain. With the help of federal bureaucrats willing to violate the cardinal rule of bureaucracy-by surrendering regulatory power to the marketplace-emissions trading would become one of the most spectacular success stories in the history of the green movement...
In the end, the conservative Republican-inspired "cap-and-trade" system for acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide was put into place by Republican President George HW Bush, who "not only accepted the cap, he overruled his advisers' recommendation of an eight million-ton cut in annual acid rain emissions in favor of the ten million-ton cut advocated by environmentalists." And it worked incredibly well, "cost[ing] utilities just $3 billion annually, not $25 billion... [and] by cutting acid rain in half, it also generates an estimated $122 billion a year in benefits from avoided death and illness, healthier lakes and forests, and improved visibility on the Eastern Seaboard."
Yesterday, President Obama met with Senators at the White House and pushed them to pass comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. Still, the skeptics are spinning a monotonous web of negativity regarding what is achievable on this front. And, not surprisingly, the "mainstream media" once again has been asleep at the wheel in setting the record straight. Fortunately, we know that when this President rolls up his sleeves, he gets stuff done and delivers on his promises. One thing’s for sure; President Obama is anything but an underachiever!
Along these lines, President Obama held a press conference following the G-20 summit in Toronto. In response to a reporter’s question regarding how he would achieve his deficit reduction goals, the president responded:
For some reason people keep being surprised when I do what I said I was going to do. So, I say I’m going to reform our [health care system], and people say well gosh that’s not smart politics maybe we should hold off. Or I say we’re going to move forward on [Don’t Ask Don’t Tell] and somehow people say well why are you doing that, I’m not sure that’s good politics. I’m doing it because I said I was going to do it, and I think it’s the right thing to do. And people should learn that lesson about me, because next year when I start presenting some very difficult choices to the country I hope some of these folks who are hollering about deficit and debt step up cause I’m calling their bluff.
To that list of accomplishments, we could also add:
- Almost single-handedly saving the Copenhagen Climate Summit from failure.
- Preventing Great Depression Part II.
- Creating or saving 2.2-2.8 million jobs, well on the way to Obama’s February 2009 pledge that he would "create or save 3-and-a-half million jobs over the next two years."
- Reforming Wall Street (likely to pass Congress any day now)
- Overhauling the student loan market
- Reaching a nuclear arms treaty with Russia
We could go on and on, but you get the point: anyone who continues, at this point, to be "surprised" when President Obama gets things done when he puts his mind to it is deep in denial. Or, as a previous president might have put it, they are wildly "misunderestimating" our 44th president.