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Fix or Ditch Kerry Lieberman Global Warming Bill

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If you're like me, you've already received multiple emails from environmental groups about the climate legislation unveiled by Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman. Most call for its immediate passage. A few say the bill is so flawed it should be killed.

We have a more complicated analysis than pass or kill, though admittedly this is a lousy piece of legislation. The morally critical and scientifically necessary goal of reversing (not addressing or tackling, but literally reversing) global warming has run into the political reality of a Senate with rules allowing immense power to be exercised by a minority of senators who are effectively controlled by the biggest oil companies, the utility industry, and the nuclear industry.

In other words, despite the best efforts of many environmental advocates, this legislation has been hijacked and is appropriately no longer even called global warming but is now called power legislation. In Washington, words matter.

Passing legislation involves difficult compromise. If this legislation actually would eventually stop global warming, it would be worth many compromises. But this legislation does not stop global warming.

Outrageously, and at great danger to our economy and ecosystem, this bill provides for new offshore oil drilling. In an earlier version, it garnered the support of BP, which is responsible for one of the biggest environmental disasters in American history. You can be assured the major oil companies are happy with what their lobbyists were able to insert into the Kerry-Lieberman bill, though you can bet that Sen. Kerry will no longer name-drop BP when bragging about the historic compromises struck to bring this bill to the floor of the Senate.

Even worse, some politicians and environmental organizations are using the Gulf Coast tragedy to push for passage of this flawed bill. To hear their arguments, you'd think the bill adds important safeguards and limits to offshore drilling. But in reality, it significantly expands offshore drilling. Given that hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil are spewing into the Gulf of Mexico each day with no end in sight, there is no excuse for increasing offshore drilling with this bill.

We need to reinstate a moratorium on new offshore drilling, and we need to do it now. Anyone who promotes a bill that does otherwise has no environmental credibility. If they believe that we must expand offshore oil drilling, they should simply say so.

The bill's targets are much too weak, falling far short of the greenhouse gas reductions that scientists say are necessary to credibly address climate change. And it explicitly guts measures that are strong enough to ensure progress -- namely, key sections of the Clean Air Act and existing state laws, such as the California legislation already passed that calls for much deeper cuts in greenhouse gases.

The legislation provides for massive tax incentives and loan guarantees for the nuclear power industry. If the bill must contain nukes in order to get the last two or three votes for passage in the Senate, tell us who those senators are and we'll go to work on them! If nukes are in the bill to appease Senator Graham, take them out -- he has already walked away from the legislation. By our vote count, we are not close to have 60 votes, so why give away a massive expensive chip before the real negotiating begins?

In a few areas, the proposed legislation is actually better than the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House. There are more direct to consumer rebates. The bill includes tougher standards for stationary sources of carbon emissions. "Carbon Tariffs" are included to protect us against imports from countries with weak or no limits on greenhouse gas pollution.

But the bottom line still remains: The bill takes away key EPA abilities to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and substitutes weaker standards that do not reverse global warming. It preempts stronger state laws on global warming. And it expands offshore drilling.

With one exception, good bills go to die or be dramatically worsened in the Senate. The exception is the current financial reform bill, where a number of strong amendments have passed due to the public's utter loathing of the gigantic banks. Has public revulsion about dirty industries made it possible to strengthen this legislation and get enough votes to overcome a filibuster? Goldman Sachs is far more unpopular than even the disastrous BP. So, probably not. But it is worth being clear about what needs improvement and then fighting hard to change votes. The worst thing is to bargain away key environmental strategies and get nothing in return, setting off a race to the environmental bottom.

Please join CREDO and many others in calling on your senators to fix the global warming bill by saving the Clean Air Act, protecting stronger state laws, and banning new offshore oil drilling. If these key points are not addressed, the legislation should be defeated.

We cannot support any legislation that takes us backward in these three crucial areas. If these glaring weaknesses are fixed, we can consider the revised legislation and may support it.

If Congress cannot enact comprehensive legislation this year, great progress can and should be made using EPA's Clean Air Act powers, finishing the job of regulating the dirty coal industry's toxic wastes, along with narrower bills on such matters as a nationwide renewable standard. When the new Senate reconvenes in January, the filibuster should be reformed so that it takes a majority vote to protect the environment without bribing special interest senators with billions of incentives. It would be best for the world if the Senate could pass truly strong legislation. But other countries will not be fooled by passing legislation riddled with loopholes and pretending that it reverses global warming.

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