Pre-empting Our Future: Why we MUST Defeat Kerry-(Graham)-Lieberman

For the past year and a half or so, I have been largely neutral towards federal climate legislation.  I have recognized that in their various forms, the federal bills have fallen far short of what we need to achieve in order to prevent catastrophe.  At the same time, the consensus among policy experts in D.C. was that this was the best we could accomplish at the time, and we needed to pass something so that the framework was in place, and we can later amend it.

The latest draft of Kerry-Graham-Lieberman has crossed the line.

It’s morally reprehensible to have caps that are below what scientists say are needed to prevent major death and destruction (which all of the bills discussed have had).  Let’s be clear – weaker caps mean more human hearts will stop beating.  People will die.  But the argument was, if we can pass this now, we can guarantee that some human (and non-human animals and plants) will be saved, and we can hopefully amend it later on with tighter caps, and save even more of them; we don’t have enough power to pass science-based caps.  This argument is perfectly sound.

It’s financially unsound to be handing out subsidies to false solutions like ‘less-dirty’ coal, natural gas for transportation, and nuclear.  We are in a deficit and we have limited resources.  We should not be handing out subsidies left and right to industries that are going to make air dirtier and our communities sicker, while further destabilizing our climate and our world.  But, the experts say that if giving out these subsidies is the only way we can pass this, it needs to be done.  We get the framework in place, we build more power, we can roll back the subsidies.

And at the end of the day, from a cost-benefit-analysis, one can argue that these things are ‘allow-able’ in the grand trade-off.  If the only way we can ‘get the right framework’ is by having caps that are too low and subsidizing false solutions, then people can argue in good faith that these are trade-offs we have to give, and that for the sake of progress, we need to swallow our pride, shut off our hearts, and do what needs to get done for the sake of the planet and the people on it.

But pre-empting BOTH the EPA and the STATES is just wrong.  That would make this bill not just the floor of what we will achieve, but the ceiling of what we can achieve.  And that is just plain unacceptable.

If our movement (and I say that word fully recognizing that we fall far short of what we need to have earned that term) accepts these compromises, we will not be pre-empting the authority of the EPA, or pre-empting the ‘laboratory of the states,’ we will be pre-empting our future.

The EPA is our grand bargaining chip.  If nothing passes, the EPA starts regulating CO2 beginning next year, and they’ll reach the goals Obama committed to at Copenhagen (the same goals that are in this bill).  And they’ll do it without subsidizing the heck out of the coal, nuclear, and gas industries.  So why should we trade away our single bargaining chip for something inferior to it?

But even more important, if such a thing is possible, than the EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 is the ability of states to lead by example.  The ONLY possible way we will pass a bill strong enough is if we first build power and momentum by passing stronger state bills.  As we win state-by-state, we show how clean energy really works, how it creates real jobs and cleans up our communities, and we weaken the power of the fossil fuel industry in the process.

Movement leaders:

The line must be drawn here, no further.  If we give this up, we will be pre-empting our future.

Our future is too important.

As a student, and as a young person, I demand that those who claim to speak for me and fight for me to work to defeat this bill, or to remove the pre-emption clauses.  You do not speak for me or my generation if you support a bill that gives away our ability to build a movement capable of passing the type of legislation we need.  Fight for it if you must, but not in my name.

5 Responses to “Pre-empting Our Future: Why we MUST Defeat Kerry-(Graham)-Lieberman”


  1. 1 Carlos Rymer Apr 28th, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I definitely agree that legislation should not take the power of the EPA and the states to do what have to do to fight climate change. Over the last several years, many of us have helped achieve significant goals in many states in the face of inaction in Washington. Why should all that work go down the pipeline just to please industry?

    Let’s be clear: giving up the right to do what we’ve agreed to do in states that believe bold action is necessary is equal to agreeing that we shouldn’t have a voice or that what we say really doesn’t matter. So, I fully support Craig in opposing a bill that does this, and hope that other youth will call on everybody working to pass climate legislation this year to focus exclusively on making sure that these horrible clauses are not in the bill.

    Thanks Craig for making it very clear!

  2. 2 Ted Wolf Apr 28th, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    You make a great case here, Craig, and opposing the preemption of EPA powers and states’ abilities to impose stronger rules is key. Any and all calling Senators about the importance of moving forward on clean energy legislation must make these points. Senator Graham’s grandstanding is either amusing or infuriating, depending on one’s point of view, but it does buy a little time to get youth voices aligned on what they can support and what they must oppose.

  3. 3 JP Apr 28th, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I’m with ya. I’d “support” most bills these days as a first step in the right direction, maybe something we could build off. But a bill that takes us backwards will not only prohibit that first step, but erase all the work leading up to it.

  4. 4 Dominique H. Apr 29th, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    *snaps*

  5. 5 Mark Apr 30th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    No federal bill is going to stop the climate crisis… its time to move on and focus our energies elsewhere. Like keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

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About Craig


Craig Altemose is the founder and Executive Director of Better Future Project, which engages in movement-building to make communities more resilient and to accelerate a rapid and responsible transition away from fossil fuels. Currently, he serves on the Massachusetts Green Economy and Climate Protection Advisory Committee and on the board of the Mass Climate Action Network. Craig founded and led Students for a Just and Stable Future (MA's state network). He has previously served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Co-Chair of the National Association of Environmental Law Societies, worked with Energy Action as an intern and a fellow, and served on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Student Coalition, a group he remains active with. Craig helped plan Power Shift 2007, and was the Lead Organizer of the Massachusetts Power Shift conference in April, 2008. He holds a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School, a Master in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and a B.A. in International Relations and Global Affairs from Eckerd College.

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