On a 12-8 vote, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee passed out the Lieberman-Warner “American Climate Security Act”. Such stalwarts of environmental issues as Senators Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders voted for sending this bill out of committee and praised it (even strongly).
Yet, there are those, including this author, who have serious issues with this bill and would not want it signed into law, as is.
Why, in the world, should a ‘blogger’ have a voice over such political powers as a Barbara Boxer?
There are a number of dynamics at play here:
- Understanding the Immensity of the Implications
- Political Reality vs Objective Reality
- Judgments about what is best political movement
- Judgments about what Mr 26% might do
IMMENSITY OF IMPLICATIONS
Let us be clear, meaningful Global Warming (and energy) legislation
should be considered within this frame:
It will effect every single person when they are sleeping, when they wake up, how they conduct their day, their evening, etc … Many (hopefully most) of these changes will be for the better, but let us be clear that serious Global Warming legislation will impact us 24/7, and not just in the pocketbook. From our energy choices, energy efficiency, smart growth, packaging, transportation, our basic health, etc … It is hard to overstate the implications.
In this vein, L-W is amazing because it was basically brokered by two ‘marginal’ Senators with two staffers running the process, much (most) of the time behind closed doors, without a serious engagement by the vast majority of the Congress and by the American public.
It is hard to see legislation of greater import (positive or negative) out of Congress? Is this is the process to arrive at it?
POLITICAL VS OBJECTIVE REALITY
We see this in the Energy Bill. That bill is not enough to deal with the serious challenges we face (even without talking of Global Warming, but just Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas and …), no one with expertise in Energy Issues would ever suggest it is (at least off the record). That bill, however, is at (if not past) the limit of what this Congress can pass. Thus, those of us who work energy issues have urged support of the bill, have praised Pelosi/et al for it, even as we recognize the serious problems and shortfalls of what it would achieve (if passed and signed into law). But that bill, by the way, does not put fundamental roadblocks of a better bill in 2009 (let us say), with a President elected with a mandate for better energy policy.
Let us turn to L-W. To be clear, its 2050 goals are inadequate against the science that sets 80% as the target for a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. (Like those odds, even with 80%? I don’t.) As Senator Sanders stated less than a month ago:
“virtually all of the scientific evidence tells us that, at the least, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 if we stand a chance to reverse global warming. Lieberman-Warner, under the very best projections, provides a 66 percent reduction.”
The bill might represent the political compromise required today, but it doesn’t set a path for even a 50% chance of navigating Global Warming safely.
Now, that long-term target is not the critical problem. Some say that buyoffs are required to get a bill. What did Senator Sanders say about them?
“Second, this legislation allows major polluters to continue emitting greenhouse gases for free until 2036. In fact, old-fashioned dirty coal burning plants could still be built during this period. That’s wrong. The “right to pollute” should not be given away for up to 24 years. Further, in calculating emission reductions, the bill relies much too heavily on “offsets,” a process which is difficult to verify and which could significantly undermine the actual emissions caps.
“Third, this bill provides a massive amount of corporate welfare to industries which have been major emitters of greenhouse gasses while requiring minimal performance standards and accountability.”
In other words, Senator Sanders spoke forcefully to some of the issues
that raised in other Energy Smart discussions.
I cannot imagine that, in private, Senator Sanders would support
Lieberman-Warner becoming law as it is currently written and structured.
JUDGMENT ABOUT BEST POLITICAL MOVE
Thus, we get to political judgment. There are many who advocate that it is critical to have the Global Warming debate in the whole Senate, to get Senators votes on the record (potential to use as ammunition next year and to provide a trail for understanding how to move forward), and that a bill will never be passed.
And, MY IMPRESSION is that Senator Boxer desperately wanted to be able to say “A Global Warming bill came out of my committee and will it will, for the first time, be a comprehensive GW bill to be debated/voted on in the whole Senate.” My IMPRESSION is that there was much arm twisting to have this occur and to avoid having any Democratic Party leader looking to side with the Inhofes of the world. Thus, the unanimous Democratic voice to vote out of committee (along with John Warner).
My perspective is that I do not think it sensible to be going on the record, strongly supporting a piece of legislation that has very serious flaws, flaws that would undercut our path toward tomorrow if it became law. How to argue for 100% auction tomorrow if I (and others) are cheering along a bill that gives away 40% of permits to serial polluters? (Let us be clear, that 40% represents something like $20-50 billion per year for roughly 25 years. Do you really want to be subsidizing coal companies and not energy efficiency / renewable power / ordinary people with those resources?)
WHAT WOULD MR 26% DO?
Now, there is a base assumption that if L-W ever were passed out of Congress, that Bush would veto it in a second. There is a serious question as to whether the Tuxedo-Wearing base is advocating otherwise, trying to get B-C to leave behind a legacy that makes more serious action under a Democratic Party President, with stronger D majorities in Congress. Now, Bush/Cheney might refuse to face the reality of that potential, but there are many people who having given significant resources to the R machine in the past 20 years who are suppporting Lieberman-Warner.
Hmmm … Going back to that question that starts this. If Sanders is supporting something that the tuxedo-wearing base is supporting, should trust of Sanders out weigh distrust of the Bush’s base? Now, this is a philosophical question meriting Solomaic attention.
Now, Bernie Sanders of 15 Nov definitely did not support Lieberman-Warner. The bill was very marginally changed on his core issues, not enough to eliminate them. I believe that he (and others) are making a political judgment. A political judgment that I do not agree with.