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Anne Butterfield

Anne Butterfield

Posted: October 15, 2009 12:09 PM

Necessary But Not Sufficient: Congress' Climate Bill

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We have all heard about the woman who marries her live-in sweetheart even though he was a known womanizer. Even two weeks before the wedding day Rosie found Mark in bed with another woman, but she was too invested in his wealth to break the engagement. Also his community, so elegant with traditions that she'd not remotely known in her childhood, had become her home. If not marry him, where was she to go?

Rosie and Mark are a parable for every player in Washington toiling away on major legislation, especially the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACESA) intended to wean us off of fossil fuels that power two-thirds of our electricity and practically all of our transportation.

Problem is, Mark can't stop womanizing, and Rosie has long been giving favors for advancement. Leaders like these do not have the mettle to pinpoint and pursue the very finest solutions.

But we might be wise to see the ACES bill as Thomas Friedman did when he said: "It is appalling, a mess. I detest it. Now hurry up and pass it." Here's why:

Structured standards for behavior, like those which come with marriage vows or major legislation passed for the wold to see, can have leverage on the wider community.

The ACES bill's full or near-existence for December's climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen is pivotal. As the world's largest cumulative emitter, America has been the leader at bringing our planet to this historic brink of poor biochemical and climate health, and our failure to bring a comprehensive bill to Copenhagen, even a pockmarked unfinished stinker, will send exactly the wrong signal.

Those who rationally protest the ACES bill, such as the members of Climate SOS , describe the bill as inadequate for its low targets and, "worse than doing nothing" due to its cap and trade mechanism rife with allowances, offsets, carbon trading, permission for new coal plants, plus-size funding for that chimera know as carbon capture and storage, and reliance on biomass combustion.

Worst of all in the ACES bill is the waiver of the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases, in the version passed by the House of Representatives.

SOS prefers direct regulation to bring nearly 100 percent carbon emission reduction in 20-30 years through an energy efficiency portfolio standard, as well as extreme ramp-up of renewable energy, zero waste, sustainable agriculture, and more. This would be paid for through a carbon tax and dividend scheme that pays out most of its resources directly to citizens.

The problem is that they at SOS seem to believe that Congress is politically capable of doing better. And, lo and behold, our government is still in bed with the other the woman, subsidizing fossil fuels. Only last month did the prominent voice of President Obama call for a worldwide stop to such nonsense.

That's a little like Mark canceling the Playboy Channel the day before the wedding.

One prominent supporter of the ACES bill, former Deputy of the Department of Energy and blogger for ClimateProgress, Joseph Romm, advises:

"And for those who say this doesn't do enough -- I agree 100 percent. But then the original Clean Air Act didn't do enough." He cites also the 1987 Montreal protocol as inadequate to save the ozone layer, continuing, "but it began a process and established a framework that, like the CAA, could be strengthened over time as the science warranted. The painful reality of climate change is going to become increasingly obvious in the coming years, and strengthening is inevitable."

In short, the ACES bill is necessary but not sufficient. We have seen this before. Did women earn full citizenship just after suffrage was passed? Did blacks enjoy social equality just after slavery was abolished, or even after the civil rights movement? Did most states impose best available control technologies on updated power plants just because the Clean Air Act said so?

No, no and no.

Environmentalists are in no way fooled by the ACES bill's failure to deliver the needed emissions reductions. The planet's survival relies partly on a climate bill but mostly on continued grassroots assault on coal plants and other offenders, plus disruptive clean technologies to take our markets by storm.

It would be nice to have a sterling market signal in the form of a carbon tax, but with only ExxonMobil strutting in favor of this, people are reasonable to look on philanderers as more trustworthy friends.

The trick is to keep the EPA vested with authority to regulate emissions, as, according to Climate SOS's platform statement (see article five), some biomass and trash incineration schemes portend to have emissions much worse than burning coal.

Our work will not be finished with a climate bill, it will begin anew, just as Rosie and Mark, once married, finally get to learn what fidelity can mean. And if we don`t like this climate bill, we can take our chances on ExxonMobil.

A version of this opinion appeared in my column in the Daily Camera