A Guest Post By Ted Glick, June 12, 2009
On June 10th a national conference call involving hundreds of people listening was held. It was moderated by Gillian Caldwell, director of 1Sky, and featured Henry Waxman and Ed Markey. After they got off the call staff of the Energy and Commerce Committee continued answering questions. These were what I considered to be the most notable of the comments made by this overall group.
COAL: Henry Waxman, speaking about the cap and its effect on coal, talked about how ghg reductions have to be made by coal companies. He said that the idea is that they can keep using coal while investment is being made in carbon capture and sequestration, but they have to figure out how to reduce emissions. The offsets may help them do it, he said. Then he made a statement about nuclear power that seemed as if he was saying that this is another way coal companies could reduce emissions, i.e., build nuke plants to replace coal.
Waxman and Markey made it very clear that they see coal as being part of the plan for a long time. In response to a question about mountaintop removal and the pollution caused by the burning of coal, Waxman talked about U.S. coal being important in terms of “reducing foreign sources of energy.” He and Markey also talked about how if the U.S. moves forward with the production of carbon capture and sequestration (ccs) technology, we can be a world leader in exporting that to other countries which are also big on coal. Neither of them responded to the original question asking about mountaintop removal and coal pollution.
COPENHAGEN: Waxman said that he thinks their targets for reductions in the bill will be OK for most countries at Copenhagen. We’ll have to see on that, he may be right, which would be sad given what was adopted at the U.N. Bali climate conference in December, 2007 as far as the need for 25-40% reductions below 1990 levels by industrialized countries.
STRENGTHENING THE BILL: In responding to a question about strengthening and not weakening the bill, Waxman and then Markey didn’t say anything at all about strengthening. Waxman said explicitly that “if we get the votes for this bill we don’t have to make any changes at all.” This was as part of his and Markey’s appeal for everyone on the call to work hard to get Congresspeople to support the bill as is.
AUCTIONS, FREE PERMITS TO POLLUTERS: A question was asked about why a 100% auction of permits was not the approach used. The question also asked about all of the free emissions permits given to polluters. In response, a staffer on the Energy and Commerce Committee said that “50% of the money is for consumers.” This echoed the way they’ve been describing the free permits given to the fossil fuel industry. She said they were worried that if they have 100% auction that “there will be big electric rate increases in the Midwest and that could undermine support for the program.”
REMOVAL OF EPA REGULATORY POWER: A question was asked about why the bill removed the power of the EPA to regulate stationary sources of carbon emissions, e.g., coal plants. A staffer responded by saying that even if EPA had that authority, they could limit emissions at one plant and there’d just be another plant where emissions could go up. She said, “this is an area where it’s tough to achieve political consensus without giving certainty to industry,” meaning the fossil fuel industry. “If they (coal and other stationary sources of carbon emissions) had concerns about individual plants being regulated,” it would be a problem, apparently meaning a problem as far as them continuing to do business as carbon emitters for many more years to come.
GREEN JOBS: On green jobs, they said there was 500 million dollars for a job training act. They said targeted hiring of people of color/disadvantaged communities was not within their jurisdiction.
GETTING THE JOB DONE: The final question was about why we should be confident that this bill will do the job of reducing emissions given that the science says that emissions need to start going down worldwide within 6 years, by 2015, to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. The staff took a little time to respond on this. The answer by Greg Dobson was that this bill sends a strong message that emissions must come down. “What we saw in the last two years was that the spectre of EPA regulation was enough to cancel coal plants. Now we have this bill which will send a signal that we’re serious.”
-It is unfortunate that it was not stated on the call that the public position of the groups which organized the call, and most environmental groups, is that the bill needs to be strengthened, not just passed as is. It would have been a good thing to have Waxman and Markey specifically respond to the specific strengthening amendments which those groups are advocating for.
-The answer to the question about 100% auction and free emissions permits to the fossil fuel industry was disturbing. 100% auction was the position taken by Presidential candidate Barack Obama and by President Obama for the first few months of this year. He called for 80-85% of the revenue from that 100% auction to be returned to taxpayers/consumers to help them deal with the rising cost of fossil fuels caused by that 100% auction, which would help not just Midwesterners but everyone in the USA. And giving the fossil fuel industry 50% of the emissions permits for free is not giving them to consumers. It is unrealistic, to say the least, to think that coal, oil and natural gas companies are going to pass along all of the value of those free permits to consumers or that regulatory bodies have the resources to seriously investigate what they do with the money made from those free permits.
-Finally, it is hard to believe that removing regulatory authority from the EPA over stationary sources of carbon emissions is a benign thing. If “the spectre,” as it was described, of EPA regulation of carbon emissions was enough to cause the cancellation of plans for new coal plants, wouldn’t the actual power to do so have even more of an impact? But again, every indication is that this bill is not about getting the U.S. off coal. That was as much as said by Waxman and Markey. And it is backed up by the fact that the legislation allows new coal plants to be built for the next 11 years that don’t need to sequester any carbon until 2025.
There is a very serious need for a very serious campaign to strengthen this bill. And the American people need and deserve a discussion on the House floor by their elected leaders about the best way forward towards a clean energy economy.