by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Brad Johnson
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Following President Obama's call for investment in a clean energy economy, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chair Ed Markey (D-MA) this week unveiled green economy legislation. The 648-page "discussion draft" of the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act sets national standards for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and global warming pollution, but it does not specify whether industry will be subsidized to achieve those standards. However, the Center for American Progress Action Fund's Joseph Romm still gave the bill a "B+," because it "boosts the economy, creates green jobs, and puts the country on a path to preserve a livable climate." The global warming cap-and-trade system described in the bill would restore American technological leadership and steer us away from planetary catastrophe. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) claimed it would "raise energy taxes in the midst of a serious recession." Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) echoed industry talking points by saying that the pollution targets "impose too much of a burden." Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) claimed that the bill would "save the planet by sacrificing the economy."
ECONOMY VS. ENVIRONMENT?: The attacks on green economy legislation are based on the premise that protecting the environment comes at a cost to the economy. But the premise is false. Our fossil-based economy comes with great costs for society -- and not just the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on Saudi oil. Global warming-fueled disasters already cost the United States billions of dollars a year, and their cost will eventually reach trillions. Clean energy standards will reduce the 24,000 premature deaths, 550,000 asthma attacks, and 38,000 heart attacks caused each year by power-plant pollution and disproportionately harms children and the elderly. According to an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the ACES standard requiring all utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025 would create 297,000 new domestic jobs and save consumers $64.3 billion in lower electricity and natural gas bills. Building a green economy that would cut United States greenhouse emissions by 45 percent by 2030 could create a net 7.8 million jobs versus business as usual. The economy versus environment myth was debunked 10 years ago when a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researcher found that states with stronger environmental policies "consistently out-performed the weaker environmental states on all the economic measures." The true choice facing the American public is a green economy that offers jobs, opportunity, and a healthy planet, or a gray economy of pollution, debt, and inequity.
THE 'LIGHT-SWITCH TAX' LIE: Republican leaders like Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are attacking cap-and-trade proposals before Congress by claiming that researchers at MIT found that it would create "a light switch tax that would cost every American household $3,128 a year." This is a deliberate lie, distributed by the National Republican Congressional Committee to dozens of districts. A Progress Report analysis has found 11 different Republicans repeating the lie this week, from Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) to Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), who inflated the number to $4,560. In an interview with PolitiFact, John Reilly, an MIT professor and one of the authors of the study, said of the $3,100 claim: "It's just wrong. It's wrong in so many ways it's hard to begin." Republicans arrived at the figure by taking the value of the cap-and-trade market and dividing it equally among American households. But the value of the market doesn't equal the cost to citizens. The pollution cap would "push the price of carbon-based fuels up a bit, but other results of a cap-and-trade program, such as increased conservation and more competition from other fuel sources, would put downward pressure on prices." On Wednesday, Reilly sent a forceful letter to Boehner and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to denounce this blatant distortion. Reilly noted that $3,100 was actually "10 times the correct estimate, which is approximately $340," and that the costs on lower and middle income households can be "completely offset by returning allowance revenue to these households" -- as called for by Obama.
'APRIL FOOL'S' ALTERNATIVE: On Wednesday, April 1, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, released his party's alternative proposal that outlined an "inspiring vision" for American energy policy. The GOP budget would achieve the goals of "reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, deploying more clean and renewable energy sources free of greenhouse gas, and supporting economic growth," Ryan argued, "by rejecting the president's cap-and-trade scheme, by opening exploration on our nation's oil and gas fields, and by investing the proceeds in a new clean energy trust fund, infrastructure and further deficit reduction." This plan is indistinguishable from Bush-Cheney energy policy, in both language and policy. In every State of the Union address he delivered, President Bush promised to to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Bush opened the floodgates to domestic drilling and oil and gas companies enjoyed record profits, as gas prices exploded and our dependence on foreign oil rose to record highs. Bush rejected cap and trade as "bad legislation" that "would raise fuel prices and raise taxes on Americans" and "demand drastic emissions cuts that have no chance of being realized." Meanwhile, U.S. greenhouse gas pollution rose and climate disasters skyrocketed. Bush established a cornucopia of "clean energy" initiatives while slashing funds for renewable energy and blocking energy efficiency standards to maintain our dependence on coal. Admitting that in "the recent past, the Republican Party failed to offer the nation...innovative and principled solutions." Ryan said he does "not intend to repeat that mistake." As the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen said, "April Fool's."