Sunday, June 28, 2009

Senate split on follow-up to House climate bill

What now? The House narrowly (219-212) passed a cap-and-trade bill Friday that aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions 17% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. (If you want to see how your rep voted, go to The lobbying was intense, with the Obama administration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), environmental groups and key sponsors twisting arms till the last minute to overcome the heavy spending of the old “dirty” energy industry and GOP. They squeaked through with one vote to spare.

Attention has now turned to the Senate. President Obama set aside a Health Care message and used his Saturday radio broadcast to push for Senate approval of a similar bill. Both sides are again gearing up for a fight.

Two bills or one?
House Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he and six committee heads will craft a comprehensive bill for this fall.

Energy Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has jumped out front and already passed a bill out of committee, with bipartisan support, that would establish a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) of 15% by 2021, though a third of that percentage could be earned through energy efficiency. The heavily flawed compromise bill also would allow offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico within 45 miles of Florida (as opposed to the 100-235 mile buffer established in 2006).

Environmental groups oppose this bill in the current form, but note new numbers for a more stringent RES (25% by 2025) can be added on the floor with just 51 votes. Another problem is that it protects dirty Canadian oil sands from a 2007 law keeping the federal government from buying fuels with higher greenhouse gases than conventional fuels.(Yes, you read it right -- oil sands produce more GHG than traditional fuels. But, hey, Canada is our friend. Translation: they're not Arab.)

Meanwhile Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is marking up a cap-and-trade bill modeled on the House bill, which she hopes to have out of her committee before the August recess.

Some say there should be two bills, giving the energy portion a better chance to pass if cap-and-trade can’t get the requisite 60 votes to avoid filibuster (Al Franken, we need you, and we need you now). However, Reid wants to bundle the package together. He also wants to add a provision that wasn’t in the House bill, for a national “smart grid.”

What do Republicans want?
The Republican Western Caucus released a bill last week, which emphasizes oil, gas and nukes. They gave it the warm and fuzzy name of “Clean, Affordable, Reliable Energy Act” or CARE. The goal is to increase domestic fuel production to reduce dependence on foreign oil, while keeping energy prices down. It calls for opening oil reserves on the outer continental shelf and ANWR in Alaska and removing environmental barriers to drilling. Their bill does include incentives for alternative energy sources and plug-in vehicles and investment in infrastructure, but it also wants to reduce barriers to nuclear development and oil shale exploration.

What do people think of all this?
Three-quarters of the public think the federal government should regulate greenhouse gases from power plants, factories and cars to reduce global warming, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. But some of those either don’t understand or don’t like the concept of cap-and-trade. A slim majority (52%) approves it, while 43% opposes. About 6 in 10 said they’d favor restrictions even if other countries did nothing, and the same number said they’d pay more, though that percentage varies depending on how much more.

Age was a big differentiator, as you might imagine. Two-thirds of those under 30 favor cap-and-trade, while only 40% of seniors do. Half of senior said there should be some federal regulation, though.

Cap-and-trade is not an easy concept to understand. Proponents need to do a better job of selling it to the public. It may not be the ideal solution, but a carbon tax is never going to fly politically.

We need to make sure the senators are listening to the public as well as to the entrenched interests. Otherwise they’ll be able to block this legislation or turn it to their advantage, and we’ll be back to square one on climate change.

(Sources: E&D Daily, E&E PM, Washington Post, AP, New York Times)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Late-breaking: Agreement on climate bill brings new votes

House Energy Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Agriculture Chair Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) have reached agreement on rural concerns about the pending climate bill. After several days of negotiations, Peterson said Tuesday evening he would vote for the American Climate Energy and Security Act, likely bringing dozens of rural congressmen with him. This greatly improves chances for passage of the comprehensive cap-and-trade bill, possibly as early as Friday. (Source: E&ENewsPM)

Duke vs. Newt: frantic lobbying as House climate bill vote draws near

Duke Energy wants it, Newt Gingrich doesn't. With the House climate bill heading to the floor for debate Friday, lobbying is fast and furious.
In the past two days:
• A group of 22 environmental groups sent a letter to all House members urging them to vote for the bill – the American Energy and Climate Security Act (H.R.2454). Groups included the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters. LCV said it would not endorse anyone who votes against it.
• 20 companies and electric utilities took out full-page ads in Washington papers calling for passage because they want the clarity of rules it would bring (and likely because most allowances for cap-and-trade will be given -- not sold -- to polluters at the start). Those signing on included Duke, NRG Energy and PSEG Inc.
• 20 climate scientists sent a letter to Congress saying that to avert a "rapidly developing global climate crisis” they should pass a strengthened version of the bill as a basis for stronger federal policies. Well-known NASA scientist James Hansen, who is convinced CO2 emissions must be cut back to 350 parts per million (from the current 385) rather than the early target of 450 ppm, did not sign.
• President Obama urged passage during his news conference Tuesday, saying it would spark a clean-energy transformation.
• The Cooler Heads Coalition, a new group of science skeptics and other legislative opponents began lobbying Congressmen.
• Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions for a Winning Future planned to run a TV ad, starting Wednesday, opposing the bill and saying it would hurt the economy.

Are the votes there to pass it?
On Tuesday there were 170 reliable votes and 108 on the fence, according to an analysis by E&E Daily. 218 votes are need to pass the bill. If the votes aren’t there, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he may push it back until after the Fourth of July.

In years past the Senate took the lead on climate legislation, and the House has never passed a cap-and-trade bill. But this year the Senate is lagging behind, with a weak energy bill out of the Energy Committee and Barbara Boxer still crafting a cap-and-trade bill in her Environment Committee. So even if the House manages to pass this bill, Senate agreement is not by any means secure.

A few other points
* The EPA said Tuesday the bill would cost the average household between $80 and $111 a year. Congressional Budget Office figures released Friday said an average of $175 a year, with a range of $40 to $245 depending on income level.

* The bill has been changed somewhat in recent days to accommodate the eight committees with some jurisdiction. A concern of Agriculture Chair Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) has apparently been met by giving rural electric cooperatives one-half a percent of the free allowances. But agriculture is still concerned about who will oversee farm offsets, the Agriculture Department or the EPA. And moderate Democratic representatives from farm states are needed on this vote.

* States would now be permitted to spend 10% of their allotment (which in turn is 10% of free allowances) on public transportation.

* Because of the powerful farm interests, methane emissions from cows have been exempted from the bill. They called it a “cow tax.” Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and cows produce about 25% of the emissions so that’s a significant exemption.
(Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Waxman-Markey climate bill may be foiled next week by Dem agriculture chair's voting bloc

(I’m back, after a 7-month hiatus during my husband’s illness and death. I’m back earlier than I planned because next week could be critical for the fight against climate change.)

Rural agriculture interests threaten to kill hopes of passing a comprehensive global warming bill in the House next week – and maybe even this year. The Democratic chair of the Ag Committee, Collin Peterson (Minn.), is jawboning with bill sponsor Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who hopes to resolve differences to win over a necessary block of votes.

In case you missed it, with the media focused on health care, Congress is working on a cap-and-trade climate bill that could go to the House floor as early as Monday – if they have the votes to pass it.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act, or ACES (H.R.2454), spearheaded by House Energy Chair Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), passed out of committee May 21. (Note that Waxman is now chairman of the committee Rep. John Dingell (D-Autos) used to lead, or this wouldn’t be happening.)

What’s in the bill
ACES sets a goal to reduce greenhouse gases 80% by 2050, a percentage scientists agreed is needed to avoid massive climate change and calamity. The problem, of course, is these reductions are based on 2005 greenhouse gas levels, not 1990 as the Kyoto agreement was, and during that time we accumulated a nice little built-in increase of CO2 in the atmosphere we won’t get rid of for 100 years. We’ve lost more than a decade since it became really clear we need to make huge reductions to avoid the powerful storms, water shortages, coastal inundation and other catastrophes higher temperatures are bringing.

H.R. 2454 key provisions:
* Set up a cap-and-trade system, with an increasingly lower cap on emissions and allowances to be traded as needed to meet those goals.
* Reduce carbon emissions from major sources 17% by 2020.
* Auction 15% of allowances at the start. The rest will be given away to electrical utilities and other industries impacted by the bill.
* Require that electric utilities meet 20% of their demand with renewable sources and efficiency by 2020.
*Invest in renewable sources, energy efficiency, carbon capture and sequestration, and electric and other advanced vehicles.
* Improve energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances.
* Fund efforts to reduce international deforestation.

Uncertainty about next week

Waxman and Markey and the Democratic leadership won’t go to the floor for debate unless it looks like they have the 218 votes needed to pass. After many voting blocks, such as coal, were wooed by giving them free allowances to start, the main holdup now is Agriculture Chair Peterson, who controls a 45-member bloc of votes. His main concern is that the formula for free allowances for electric utilities works against small rural cooperatives because it depends in part on sales. Others want to keep the carefully crafted formula as it is – half based on previous emissions and half on sales.

Green groups still pushing
Environmental organizations are still trying to strengthen the bill. They say 100% of allowances should be auctioned from the start. That’s what President Obama’s budget called for, but it seems giving away freebees is the only way, politically, to get this off the ground. Enviros want more emphasis on clean energy and efficiency, and a bigger emissions cut in the short term. As they lobby to strengthen the bill, they are far outspent by industry lobbyists. A study a few weeks ago showed a ratio of 16:1. That’s why your voice is needed.

What you can do
If you haven’t contacted your representative, now is the time to do it – this weekend. The bill could be filed as early as Monday, with debate Thursday and Friday, and a possible vote late Friday before the House breaks for the Fourth of July. Waxman wants a vote then because after the Fourth full attention will be on health care.

If we don’t get a climate bill by the end of the year, it may be another year or two (at least) before we do. And we’ll go empty-handed to the international meeting in Copenhagen in December, which gives us very little bargaining power with China and the rest of the world in coming up with a global treaty to replace Kyoto.

Call the Congressional switchboard at (212)224-3121 and ask for your rep by name. Tell his/her aide that you want this climate bill (H.R.2454) passed next week.
(Sources: American Clean Energy and Security Act, E&E Daily, E&E News PM, Sierra Club.)