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Dear Congress: In Case You Forgot, the Climate Still Needs Fixing

Dear Congress: In Case You Forgot, the Climate Still Needs Fixing

Climate legislation is returning to the Senate’s docket, and leaders on Capitol Hill are hoping that this version, a compromise bill spearheaded by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), can pass without getting caught in the morass of money and politics that has delayed action so far.

A long, long time ago…

Remember, there was a time when Congress was going to pass climate legislation before the international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. President Barack Obama was going to show up with a bill in hand and lead the world towards a better climate future. After the House passed its climate bill in June 2009, the Senate began discussing climate change, and a first stab by Sen. Kerry and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) went nowhere. Now, Kerry has turned to less liberal colleagues to draft an alternative that would appeal to moderates and even Republicans.

Now the Massachusetts senator is promising that climate change isn’t dead. A new bill is coming—more information may be in the offing as early as today, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones.

Third time’s the charm

Sen. Kerry is trying a new tactic to pass climate legislation. He’s waiting to release his plan until he knows the bill has the 60 supporters it needs to circumvent a filibuster. The details have not been hammered out yet, and even the Senators who’ve been in talks with Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman don’t seem to have a clear sense of what will be in the version that will emerge.

In the House, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, released an ambitious draft of the legislation, let lobbyists and members of Congress fight over it, and passed a much-changed edition months later. Sen. Kerry tried a similar plan on his side of Capitol Hill (that was the Kerry-Boxer bill), but it did not work.

With this piece of legislature, Sens. Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are working out the compromises before they release the legislation. Both reporting and speculation about their bill say that it will abandon the cap-and-trade system passed in the House. Cap-and-trade restricts carbon emissions across the economy; a variation on that policy that the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill may favor will limit the system to a few sectors.

Will it work?

Kerry’s expected bill may be a much weaker plan than any proposed so far, yet it is still not certain that the Senate will support it. The lead authors of the bill have been meeting with conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans, as Sheppard reports, but those targets have not promised support yet. Coming out of a meeting, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) told reporters: “There were some interesting things that were discussed in there and like everything else in the United States Senate, the devil is in the details.”

From a distance, banner-day climate legislation still seems possible. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Foundation, and the National Resources Defense Council believe that they will see a bill this year that caps carbon. These green groups would be able to live with the incentives handed to industry groups so far, according to Campus Progress’ Tristan Fowler.

“There are compromises [that can go] too far. Fortunately, I don’t think we’re getting near that territory at the moment,” Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, told Fowler.

Sickly green

Before getting too excited about stamping a green seal of approval on Congress’ legislation, consider Johann Hari’s testimony in The Nation about the relationships between environmental groups and the industries that they oppose.

Hari has reported on climate change issues for years, and at first, he “imagined that American green groups were on these people’s side in the corridors of Capitol Hill, trying to stop the Weather of Mass Destruction. But it is now clear that many were on a different path—one that began in the 1980s, with a financial donation.”

Hari argues that as environmental groups began to reach out to polluters, handing them awards for green behavior and accepting support from their deep pockets, they learned to compromise too readily and accept political excuses for delaying action on climate change. While in other realms these compromises might fly, when the stakes are as high as they are on environmental issues, that behavior turns the stomach.

“You can’t stand at the edge of a rising sea and say, ‘Sorry, the swing states don’t want you to happen today. Come back in fifty years,’” Hari writes.

The green future

When Kerry, Lieberman and Graham do release the compromised bill, watch for a tsunami of money and influence that could pack the bill with prizes for specific industries—or derail it altogether. Just this week, the natural gas industry’s lobbyists told The Hill, a D.C.-based newspaper, that they were ready to fight with the coal industry over incentives in the Senate bill. At AlterNet, Harvey Wasserman writes that the nuclear industry spent $645 million in the past decade to get back into the energy game, according to a new report from American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop. (Hint: that $645 million is working in their favor.)

In the Senate, the influence of oil companies will play an important role, according to David Roberts at Grist.

“While coal has a lot of power in the House, oil has enormous power in the Senate, particularly over the conservadems and Republicans needed to put the bill over the top,” Roberts explains.

No matter what legislation passes and what incentives it contains, environmentalists need to continue putting pressure on their representatives in Congress and on national environmental groups to push back against polluting industries and work to fix the world’s climate.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.

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photo credit: thanks to azrainman via flickr for the image
By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

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76 comments

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5:28PM PDT on Mar 21, 2010

Climate Change- Clean Air. Renewable energy. Recycling. Reduce Carbon Emissions-foot prints. Live light.

8:04AM PDT on Mar 14, 2010

they are too busy fighting each other for the sake of fighting

1:20AM PST on Mar 14, 2010

Near-Zero CO2 Plan
All our power requirements are for lighting, heating, transport, and energy for such things as industry on down to exercise machines.

The lighting can be zero rated by building Buxton Geothermal Power Stations (BGTGs) which use the heat of the earth at depth by drilling ten kilometre deep holes.

The heating can be near-zero rated by installing Starlite coatings, which can prevent heat leaks, on the walls and ceilings of all premises.

Transport can be made near-zero in terms of carbon emissions by ensuring that all vehicles use BGTG electricity.

The carbon footprints of long range transport can be at least halved by having their fuels mixed permanently with water using an ultrasonic dibber.

Finally, the power needed for energy can be made entirely of BGTG electricity.

Mental illness costs the UK £100 billion per year, enough for the plan. The Kadir-Buxton Method can cure the ill in thirty seconds for free.

Reducing CO2 Levels Already Created

By creating as much biochar as possible we can take CO2 out of the atmosphere and oceans and store it safely in the soil. What we need is central planning, none of this will get done by the market which is obsessed by profits rather than results.







5:56AM PST on Mar 13, 2010

a very good and interesting article, thankyou

11:14AM PST on Mar 12, 2010

Haha, love this. Great article.

11:53AM PST on Mar 10, 2010

Thanks for sharing.........excellent article, very informative.

2:25PM PST on Mar 9, 2010

Go Girrl! It is refreshing to find that there is someone 'over the pond' as passionate about Mother Earth as myself! Your post was fab.

12:31PM PST on Mar 9, 2010

'Gracias!'

8:39AM PST on Mar 9, 2010

While compromising strong environmental laws to get them passed is disheartening, it's essential that we do what we can now while we attempt to educate those who oppose the necessary measures and change the culture in Washington and throughout the country. We mustn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

7:20AM PST on Mar 9, 2010

Thank you, Marianna P.
for taking the words out of my mouth.

add your comment



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