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Mike Sandler

Mike Sandler

Posted April 8, 2009 | 03:37 PM (EST)

Waxman-Markey vs. Van Hollen: Two Approaches to Climate Change


Two climate change bills were introduced last week. The first is Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey's (D-MA) "discussion draft" of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, tipping the scales at over 600 pages, and causing a buzz in Washington. The other, authored by Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the Cap and Dividend Act of 2009, weighs in at a mere 20 pages. Judging the two just on trees consumed, Van Hollen's bill is the more environmental of the two. But his bill also directly addresses the most important question facing climate policy: who pays for the transition.

Both bills use 2005 as the base year and set nearly indistinguishable emission reduction goals. The Waxman-Markey proposal sets reduction goals of 20 percent by 2020, 42 percent by 2030 and 83 percent by 2050. Van Hollen's Cap and Dividend Act sets a reduction goal of 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and 85 percent by 2050.

Waxman-Markey contains several sections (titles) that set renewable energy standards, change fuel composition, set automobile and land use planning requirements similar to California's AB1493 and SB375, and more. The bill could also result in pre-empting regional climate programs currently under development such as the Western Climate Initiative. What it doesn't do, is say who will shoulder the costs implied in making fossil fuels more expensive. Van Hollen's bill, by contrast, does only one thing, but it's the most important thing: making polluters pay and returning the money to consumers. Waxman-Markey will work its way through the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Van Hollen will start at the House Ways and Means Committee, since it involves distributing revenues from the sale of emission permits, which is essentially money. It's possible that at some point the two bills could be combined.

These are only the first drafts of complex bills that will be modified many times. Adversaries of climate action will no doubt attempt to insert "poison pills" that undermine the intent or exploit the divisions between environmental groups over carbon taxes or the use of auction revenues. Others with hidden agendas may wait for the right moment to intervene for their own benefit (watch out for "climate pork" for the coal, ethanol, and nuclear industries). If we liken these two bills to race horses, they have just left the gate and they have many laps still to go. Although the 600 page bill is starting with more muscle, it also has to carry more bulk around the track. The 20 pager is leaner, and could put a climate dividend check in your mailbox. Stay tuned...