Newsweek, August 26, 2009
Boxer and Colleagues Feel the Heat on Cap and Trade
By Daniel Stone
There will be plenty of time next month for the Senate to debate a cap-and-trade policy, but some groups have already decided that the bill currently on the table is not an adequate solution to national energy and environmental concerns─and they're making sure to speak up early. Later today, more than 320 environmental and energy groups plan to deliver a letter to Calif. Sen. Barbara Boxer and her colleagues on the Senate Environment Committee that she chairs, arguing that the climate bill that the House narrowly passed in June is too diluted to reasonably curb carbon emissions and spur growth in renewable energy.
Letters of support or opposition constantly fly through the halls of Capitol Hill, but this one is bound to turn some heads for the sheer number of names on it. The broad collection of signatories─form the Center for Biological Diversity to the Southern Energy Network and a whole host of municipalities, faith groups and social justice organizations─lays out in short form exactly what a better bill should look like. “A top priority must be to eliminate or greatly limit and restrict offsets,” which would allow carbon pollution to continue or even increase in some regions, the letter says. It also urges that the framework of the cap-and-trade program be more transparent, to limit how much big energy companies can manipulate the value of credits. And when it comes to setting limits and emission standards, the groups suggest overshooting current scientific projections, rather than falling short. (The current bill sets a target of 450 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere, although climate scientists assert the number has to be at least 100 parts per million less to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change).
Delivery of the letter has been finely tuned for maximum impact: on the heels of health-care policy, the Senate debate on climate and energy will be among the highest-profile issues this fall on the Hill. But it’s far from a black and white negotiation. The reason the House version of the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by such a slim margin─218 to 212─was because of a fierce and largely disconnected debate. House Republicans argued that the legislation would raise energy prices on working families and add another sag to the economy as companies adjust to the carbon-monitoring system. Democrats conceded energy prices would likely rise in the short term, but with foresight, a fully operational cap-and-trade program would lead to cheaper and more sustainable forms of energy, plus a mapped strategy for addressing global warming prior to the international climate conference in Copenhagen in December.
Boxer has made no secret of her intention to approve of a cap-and-trade program (along with most other Democrats), but when the bill lands in her committee, it’ll be her staff that takes the first crack at making changes. While some senators have noted that the bill in its current form will die in the Senate unless restrictions are loosened even more, others have vowed not to support a bill that becomes any weaker. The coalition letter ends with a simple yet resounding truth: “We recognize the massive political effort that is necessary to pass climate legislation.” That, everyone can agree on.
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