Monday, July 06, 2009

Political Realities & Climate Change Legislation

Jul 6: With just 153 days until the historic Copenhagen meeting to address global climate change and a successor international treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, the intensity of the climate change debate is heating up. In the background of this intense debate is a global recession that has financially crippled countries around the world and many states here at home; as well as bitter differences between Republicans and Democrats regarding the basic science of global warming and actual need for any agreement.

Just last week Republicans launched a major campaign against Democrats that voted for the narrow passage of Waxman-Markey, American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES, H.R. 2454). The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is calling the bill "Nancy Pelosi’s devastating National Energy Tax." They claim "Democrats are forcing an extreme agenda of more spending, more taxes, and less jobs. In the midst of a severe economic recession, Nancy Pelosi and her puppets are inflicting further damage on our economy with a job-killing national energy tax."

On the international level, the G-8 meeting in Italy later this week along with the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) at the leadership level will address the climate change issue, and in the U.S. Senate, the Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will begin debating climate change legislation tomorrow (July 7). Even with a new 60 vote majority in the Senate, Democrats know it will be an uphill battle to get legislation through the Senate [
See WIMS 3/26/09].

A recent opinion piece by the Worldwatch Institute sheds light on some of the political dynamics. Worldwatch indicates that, "With few exceptions, current national goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are weak and typically push action to the distant, rather than the near, future. Although part of the environmental community has responded critically, other groups claim that more stringent climate action is simply not politically feasible -- and that asking for more risks the collapse of any climate deal."

For example, "The Obama administration's chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, has rejected calls for industrialized countries to cut their emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. He not only opposed such cuts as 'not feasible' for the United States, but strikingly judged them as 'unnecessary.' ACES is muddying the waters by pegging reductions to 2005, rather than to the internationally recognized benchmark of 1990. The reason seems clear: given the strong growth of U.S. emissions in the interim, proposed reductions of 17 percent relative to 2005 look much better than the measly 4 percent relative to 1990."

Yet, despite the inadequacies of Waxman-Markey claimed by environmental organizations and many developing countries, U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and outspoken critic of global warming science indicates that the ". . .razor thin vote in the House spells doom in the Senate. Despite a large Democratic majority in the House, and the fact that this is one of the President's top priorities, the Democratic leadership was forced to do everything possible to get a bill passed. Their slim victory could come at a high price -- this is the BTU tax all over again. . . with the economy in a deep recession, it is hard to believe that many more senators would support legislation that would strangle any hope of economic recovery and impose the largest tax increase in American history."

As the Senate debate begins, many questions remain about whether an international or U.S. agreement on climate change -- , even an inadequate one -- is politically feasible. Worldwatch warns in its State of the World 2009 report, that "fossil carbon dioxide emissions will need to come close to zero by 2050 -- decades earlier than what most governments envision -- and that deforestation needs to end well before 2030. The longer we delay serious action, the greater the danger of reaching destabilizing tipping points."

At the same time that some are issuing dire warnings, key House and Senate Republicans like Representative Joe Barton (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senator Inhofe, Ranking Member of the EPW are questioning the basic science of global warming. Barton says, "The science is not there to back it up." And, he has recently pressed EPA to formally release a report, released in draft by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which he says, "has been suppressed" and "was never made a part of the record, that we are trying to get as we speak that raises grave doubts about the endangerment finding. . ." [See WIMS 6/29/09] Barton quotes from the document saying, "There is strong possibility that there are some other natural causes of global temperature fluctuations that we do not yet fully understand and which may account for the 1998 temperature peak… This possibility needs to be fully explained and discussed. . ."

Amidst these intense political differences, the Senate EPW will begin its debate on legislation on July 7 at 10:00 AM. Scheduled to testify are top Administration officials including: Steven Chu, Secretary of the Department of Energy; Lisa Jackson, Administrator U.S. EPA; and Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. Also, scheduled to testify are representatives from: The Dow Chemical Company; Natural Resources Defense Council; the Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania; and Haley Barbour the Governor of Mississippi.

Access the opinion piece from Worldwatch with links to related information (
click here). Access a release from the NRCC with links to the various forms of ads (click here). Access the G8 2009 meeting website (click here). Access a release from Sen. Inhofe (click here). Access a release from Rep. Barton (click here). Access a lengthy release from Rep. Barton with further information (click here). Access the June 26 release from CEI and link to the draft report and the earlier release on emails (click here). Access the EPW hearing website for links to all testimony and a webcast when available (click here).