04/26/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Global Warming Legislation: What Matters?

Joe Lockhart posted A Climate of Opportunity earlier today. In it, he praises the Lieberman-Warner American Climate Security Act (more accurately known as the Coal Subsidy Act) and calls on Democratic Party politicians to unify behind it, asserting that: "Lieberman-Warner presents a smart and effective means to fight climate change." Well, this assertion is at odds with core basic principles. There are three base principles for any global warming legislation:

  • Scientific standards
  • Polluters Pay
  • Societal equity

Lieberman-Warner fails on all three ... as we are about to discuss.

Stepping back for a moment ...
Energy and Global Warming are complex, multifaceted, deep subjects. They are beyond the ability of any single person to totally master. And, a great challenge to those focused on them is seeking how to communicate, in a meaningful way, to those who don't have the ability to dedicate huge chunks of time to learning about the issues.

When it comes to Global Warming, ever more of the Globe is aware. As some say, Katrina opened the door, Al Gore strode purposefully throught it, and now people realize that we need to do "something". But, defining that something becomes the next and, perhaps, even harder challenge.

Part of that "something" must include Global Warming/Climate Change legislation. But not just any old legislation should do, we must have meaningful legislation that meets core principles.

Okay. Principles. Global Warming legislation. Why not try the following:
  • Meets or exceeds scientific standards for avoiding catastrophic climate change. Science should not cede to political realities.
  • Polluters pay to pollute. Polluting the air that your children and mine breathe is not a right. Thus, under a Cap and Trade program, 100% of permits should be auctioned.
  • Action now. The crisis is on us, delays in beginning the process only dig the hole deeper and make it more difficult to handle the challenges we face.
  • Promote social equity and justice. Global Warming legislation will impact everyone, in all facets of life. This can be done in a way that worsens economic divisions or in ways to improve the social equity (between citizens today, and between today's citizens and tomorrow's). To date, it is the poor and least powerful whose "NIMBY" (not in my backyard) voices are least heard with much of the nation's pollution centered in disadvantaged areas. When divving up the gains to be had from dealing with global warming, those voices should not be drown out yet again.
  • Strengthen the economy through, for example, green jobs, energy efficiency, creating new industries, reducing imports, and fostering exports. Shift from paying for fuel to paying for labor.
  • Promote US leadership for concerted global action. The US has created the largest portion of the built-up greenhouse gas emissions. It is the world's largest economy. We can strengthen that economy through tackling global warming seriously. But, as well, we can help create the conditions for the entire globe to take action through our own action.
To me, these seem be a reasonable set of principles. And, when considering them, it is clear that the Lieberman-Warner Coal-Subsidy Act fails to meet them. It:
  • Fails to meet scientific standards to give even a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, calling for 65% reductions in emissions by 2050 when 80% is, truly, an absolute base level.
  • Polluters only partially pay, as 40% of emission permits through 2032 are given away principally to serial polluters.
  • A cap is in place in 2012, four years out (there are reasons), with nothing mandated in terms of actions to reduce emissions before then.
  • The giving away of pollution permits will lead to windfall profits, profits that will come from the pockets of "average" Americans. This will hurt, not help, social equity.
  • Economic impact that is, at best, uneven in terms of the overall economy. The legislation does not give enough focus to "green" technologies, with a strong emphasis on technologies to keep the coal industry afloat (especially development resources of $100s billions for Carbon Capture & Sequestration). Thus, not providing for new industry leadership by the US.
  • As its goals fall short of what other nations have already and what science says is required, if this would be US leadership, would it be leadership backwards?
Thus, despite Joe Lockhart's and Barbara Boxer"s enthusiasm, Lieberman-Warner is not the bill the nation (or the globe) requires. Thus, we return to: Fix-or-Ditch the Lieberman-Warner Global Warming Bill.

Joe Lockhart: A Climate of Opportunity for Democrats

Striving to be Energy Smart to Energize America.