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LEGISLATING FOR A NEW CLIMATE

The United States needs greenhouse gas reduction legislation that (1) reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million, the level scientists say is necessary to avoid runaway global warming; (2) works with existing environmental laws — especially the Clean Air Act — instead of gutting these successful and proven environmental protections; (3) is free of loopholes allowing polluters to delay or avoid reducing their greenhouse gas emissions; and (4) doesn’t encourage habitat destruction and increased greenhouse gas emission through perverse subsidies.

Unfortunately, neither the House of Representatives bill nor what’s been under debate in the Senate passes these tests. Legislation must be significantly strengthened if we’re to reduce greenhouse gases deeply enough, and fast enough, to avert a climate catastrophe that will unleash unprecedented harm on planetary life support.

NO BILL BEFORE AUGUST RECESS

On July 22, 2010, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Senate would not take up climate legislation before the August recess. To the Center this was both good news and bad news: bad news because strong climate legislation is clearly needed; good news because the proposals under consideration in the Senate have so far fallen short of what is needed to stop catastrophic, runaway global warming.

While legislative proposals remain so weak, we are far better served by a science-based approach under the existing Clean Air Act than by a bill that continues to subsidize and pander to the oil and coal industries and other polluters.

Any bill truly aimed at dealing with global warming must build upon — not gut — our existing foundation of environmental protections. And importantly, it must achieve the greenhouse pollution reductions necessary to avert dangerous climate disruption. That means reducing carbon dioxide concentrations that currently stand at 387 parts per million to below 350 parts per million. Nothing less will do.

THE AMERICAN POWER ACT

On May 13, 2010, after months of back-room negotiations between senators, major polluters and other Washington insiders, Senators Kerry and Lieberman released a draft of the American Power Act. Their proposal provided only a fraction of the greenhouse gas pollution reductions scientists had said were necessary to avoid catastrophic climate disruption; prevented successful Clean Air Act programs from reducing greenhouse pollution; banned existing state and local efforts to tackle climate change; subsidized dangerous and costly nuclear energy; and — especially alarming in the midst of the Gulf of Mexico oil-spill disaster — catalyzed increased oil and gas drilling, including offshore.

Calling this proposal a disaster for our climate and planet, the Center has urged rejection of the proposal unless these problems are addressed.

THE CLEAN ENERGY JOBS AND AMERICAN POWER ACT

On September 30, 2009, the Senate climate bill — the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act — was introduced by Senators John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. The good news was that the Senate listened to tens of thousands of activists, many led by the Center, who demanded that the Clean Air Act exemption included in the House bill be stripped from the Senate version. 

The bad news was that after markup by the Environment and Public Works Committee, the bill banned the Environmental Protection Agency from fulfilling its longstanding duty under the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse pollutants based on scientific standards. The fossil-fuel industry was receiving what it wanted.

The Kerry-Boxer bill wouldn’t cut  CO2 emissions deeply enough or fast enough to prevent runaway global warming. The bill requires only a 20-percent reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, while climate science shows that we need to slash emissions by 45 percent or more of 1990 levels by 2020 to have any chance of ratcheting back atmospheric CO2 to 350 parts per million. Stopping global warming requires we bring the CO2 level back down to the 350 ppm safety zone.

Moreover, the Kerry-Lieberman Senate climate legislation would provide only a fraction of the necessary greenhouse gas pollution reductions; ban successful Clean Air Act programs from reducing greenhouse pollution; ban existing state and local efforts to tackle climate change; catalyze increased oil and gas drilling, including offshore drilling; subsidize dangerous and costly nuclear energy; and incentivize the destruction of forests for biomass energy production. As of late July, however, this effort appears stalled, partly due to division among the environmental community on the bill.

THE AMERICAN CLEAN ENERGY AND SECURITY ACT

In the House, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) was authored by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Edward Markey, D-Mass. It was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on June 26, 2009. ACES set woefully low emissions reduction targets and would gut EPA’s authority to curb greenhouse gas pollution under one of our nation’s most successful environmental laws, the Clean Air Act.

ACES would establish a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system, along with complementary measures also meant to reduce emissions. This cap-and-trade program would give away 85 percent of allowances for free and auction off 15 percent. If fully implemented, it would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas pollution to an estimated 17 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 71 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 — targets that would fall short of leveling off total greenhouse gas concentrations even at 450 ppmCO2 eq. Leading climate scientists say we must limit CO2 levels to 350 parts per million

ACES met with heavy criticism from conservationists and clean-energy advocates for its inadequate greenhouse pollution reductions, rollbacks of the Clean Air Act and use of “offsets” and other loopholes that would allow polluters to escape real emissions reductions. The Government Accountability Office states that it’s virtually impossible to verify whether carbon offsets represent real emissions reductions.

ACES is supported by a long list of corporations, including Shell Oil, Duke Energy, Pacific Gas and Electric, Dow Chemicals, and Ford.

OUR LEGISLATIVE CAMPAIGN

From the beginning, the Center has been advocating to ensure that any climate bill is substantive and powerful. We’ve led organizations and individuals across the country in speaking out about the importance of preserving the Clean Air Act as a foundation for climate law, setting an overall cap on atmospheric CO2 levels consistent with the best available science of no more than 350 ppm, and eliminating or greatly reducing offsets and other loopholes. So far, we’ve garnered more than 46,000 signatures on our petition supporting a substantially stronger bill than was proposed under Kerry-Lieberman; sent a letter to the Senate signed by nearly 400 organizations and overseen personal deliveries of that letter to Senate district offices; coordinated in district meetings with Senate staff across the country; and participated in 350.org’s global day of action through our 350 Reasons We Need to Get to 350 project. Our fact sheets, reports and bill analyses are updated frequently for activists around the country as the legislative battle over climate continues.

 

Bowhead whale photo by Rick LeDuc, NOAA