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The Battle Over a Global Warming Bill

February 6, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Things are really beginning to heat up with global warming legislation. The Energy industry, environmental advocacy groups, bloggers and legislators are beginning to stake out strategic positions, knowing that any global warming bill that is enacted by the current Congress and President is going to go easier on polluters than any bill that next year’s Congress and President may produce. The leading global warming bill in Congress right now, the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill, is being shepherded to a vote in the Senate sometime in May, but environmentalists — lawmakers and activists alike — are pushing for Congress to either strengthen it significantly or scrap it altogether.

The Lieberman-Warner bill, officially known as the Climate Security Act of 2007 (slandered by others as the “Coal Subsidy Act of 2007”), seeks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by between 60 and 65 percent below present levels by 2050 through setting limits on the emissions that manufacturers and utilities can release. It would also establish a carbon-trade market to encourage polluters to clean up their operation in the name of profit, but it contains loopholes that would give away many of the carbon credits rather than of selling them at auction, thus severely weakening the incentives for reducing pollution.

According to an analysis from Friends of the Earth, a leading group in the push against the bill, it would allocate, or simply give away, 49 percent of the carbon credits over the lifetime of the program, starting with 79 percent in 2012 and ending with 31 percent in 2050. “All-in-all, between 2012 and 2050, 102 billion pollution permits, worth $2.3 trillion, would be given away.” Their campaign to “fix or ditch” the bill has been spread through the blogosphere mainly in the form of ads. Yesterday, a letter from the Lieberman-Warner-supporting Environmental Defense group asking senators who support the bill to counter the FoE campaign by buying their own blog ads was leaked. As Matt Stoller of OpenLeft writes, “the criticism from Friends of the Earth is forcing the other side to actually start organizing.”

But just as the blog and non-profit driven opposition to Lieberman-Warner is starting to be considered an actual threat, the energy industry is increasingly throwing its powerful support behind it. Ryan Grim of the Politico quotes a top House aide saying that there is “’consensus among leadership that there is a good chance’ a climate change bill will pass in 2008, partly because industry — worried about getting a tougher bill in 2009 — is getting behind it." And Tom Athanasiou of Foreign Policy in Focus quotes an anonymous congressional staffer saying that "Lieberman-Warner is increasingly looking like ‘the best deal that American business will ever get.’”

A couple of weeks ago, representatives of the coal, gas and oil industry met for a conference and agreed to support the Lieberman-Warner bill because, as David Parker, president and CEO of the American Gas Association, said, “future legislation could be even harder on the industry.” A link to a full video of the conference has been posted in the bill’s comment section on OpenCongress.

On their website, Environmental Defense counters the argument that the Liebermn-Warner bill should be ditched in favor of a bill in the future that is better for the environment. “If we wait just two years to enact the bill or something similar, we’ll need to double the pace of emissions cuts to get where we need to be in 2020 — that’s risky for the environment and the economy, so there’s no time for delay.” They offer several other arguments in favor of the bill, but they don’t address FoE’s concern that it gives away many of the carbon credits instead of auctioning them off.

President Bush has threatened to veto the Lieberman-Warner bill, so even if Congress does pass it this year, it may not be signed into law and they will still be looking at considering a new bill next year. If that happens, the work Congress does on Lieberman-Warner may likely have a precedent-setting effect. But, there is also a possibility that if Congress passes it with the support of the oil and gas producing industries, Bush will take back his veto threat and sign it into law. The L.A. Times reminds us:

>Those hoping to pass the [Lieberman-Warner] bill point out that just a year ago it was unimaginable that environmentalists would win a decades-long fight for tougher fuel economy standards. After the auto industry relented, the measure passed and Bush signed it.

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