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Conservatives win Senate Democrat converts to their polluter-appeasing message

By Climate Guest Contributor on April 3, 2009 at 7:05 am

"Conservatives win Senate Democrat converts to their polluter-appeasing message"

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Hill conservatives have rejected all 3 climate-saving strategies, an approach that would doom your children and grandchildren and the next 50 generations to untold (and purely preventable) misery. Absent a positive message, all conservatives can do is try to scare the public with lies about how climate action is somehow unaffordable (see “MIT Professor tells GOP to stop ‘misrepresenting’ his work and inflating the cost to families of cap-and-trade by a factor of 10“).

Progressives know the reverse is true — or should (see “Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost — one tenth of a penny on the dollar“). Raising the cost of carbon pollution is an essential strategy for averting the incalculable economic and human harm from global warming impacts. So it is especially disheartening to see so many Senate Democrats endorse the GOP’s polluter-appeasing message, as guest blogger Brad Johnson explains in this post first published at Wonk Room.

Ever since President Obama introduced a budget that included his cap-and-trade plan to invest in a green economy and make work pay instead of pollution, conservatives have falsely attacked it as a $3100 light-switch tax, despite their lack of an alternative plan. On Tuesday, the Senate bowed to the barrage of propaganda and passed two amendments to the budget that imply any move to clean energy is a risky tax on consumers. On Wednesday, the Senate explicitly preserved the filibuster for green economy legislation (67-31 vote), even if “the Senate finds that public health, the economy and national security of the United States are jeopardized by inaction on global warming” (42-56):

SUPPORTING THE FALSE CHOICE OF ECONOMY V. ENVIRONMENT

Amendment No. 749, introduced by Sen. Boxer (D-CA): Requires that green economy legislation does not “increase electricity or gasoline prices or increase the overall energy burden on consumers, through the use of revenues and policies provided in such legislation.”

Passed 54-43; Bingaman (D-NM) and Byrd (D-WV) joined every Republican in voting against; Gillibrand (D-NY) and Kennedy (D-MA) not voting.

Amendment No. 731, Sen. Thune (R-SD): Requires that green economy legislation does not “increase electricity or gasoline prices.”

Passed 89-8: Bingaman, Cardin (D-MD), Corker (R-TN), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Menendez (D-NJ), Udall (D-NM) and Whitehouse (D-RI) voted against, Gillibrand and Kennedy not voting.

PRESERVING GREEN ECONOMY FILIBUSTER

Amendment No. 869, Sens. Whitehouse (D-RI) and Boxer: Allows non-filibusterable budget reconciliation for green economy legislation, if “the Senate finds that public health, the economy and national security of the United States are jeopardized by inaction on global warming.”

Rejected 42-56: Begich (D-AK), Byrd, Cantwell (D-WA), Dorgan (D-ND), Feingold (D-WI), Hagan (D-NC), Landrieu (D-LA), Levin (D-MI), Lincoln (D-AR), McCaskill (D-MO), Murray (D-WA), Nelson (D-NE), Rockefeller (D-WV), Stabenow (D-MI), Webb (D-VA) joined every Republican in voting against, Kennedy not voting.

Amendment No. 735, Sen. Johanns (R-NE): Prohibits the use of reconciliation in the Senate for green economy legislation.

Passed 67-31: Baucus (D-MT), Bayh (D-IN), Begich, Bennet (D-CO), Bingaman, Byrd, Cantwell, Casey (D-PA), Conrad (D-ND), Dorgan, Feingold, Hagan, Klobuchar (D-MN), Kohl (D-WI), Landrieu, Levin, Lincoln, McCaskill, Murray, Nelson, Pryor (D-AR), Rockefeller (D-WV), Stabenow, Tester (D-MT), Warner (D-VA), Webb joined every Republican in voting for, Kennedy not voting.

The budget language affected by these amendments calls for green economy legislation that “would invest in clean energy technology initiatives, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, or help families, workers, communities, and businesses make the transition to a clean energy economy.”

Of course that legislation will affect electricity and gasoline prices in some way — any plan to end our pollution Ponzi scheme will. There’s no way to write energy legislation that guarantees prices don’t go up, just as there’s no way to write legislation that guarantees prices don’t go down. However, thanks to President Bush, we do know what happens without clean energy policies — electricity and gasoline prices skyrocket, polluters profit, pollution rises, and the economy tanks. And we also know that the sun, the wind, and efficiency are free. Conservatives want to maintain the Bush-Cheney policy of letting oil and coal companies write our laws, demolish our economy, and ruin our planet. Unfortunately, it seems there are few in the Senate who are able or willing to stand up against them.

We need a plan for a green economy, not political gimmicks without answers.

Update: Matt Yglesias comments on the filibuster votes:

This is good for Republicans, since it helps them achieve their goal of destroying the planet. And it’s good for Democrats, since it helps them achieve their goal of pretending to try to avoid the destruction of the planet while ensuring that, in practice, the planet is destroyed. And Senators Johanns was born in 1950, so he’ll almost surely be dead by 2050 (along with countless residents of flood-prone areas of the developing world) so it’s basically all good.

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12 Responses to Conservatives win Senate Democrat converts to their polluter-appeasing message

  1. Lewis says:

    I’m forced to wonder, given the obvious lack of backbones, if our senators are actually not human and are exercising terraforming to change the planet’s climate more to their species liking.

  2. Ben Lieberman says:

    What is the way forward when the Senate takes such deeply cowardly and immoral actions. The level of pandering and refusal to seriously engage with the major challenges of the present and future is breathtaking and horrifying at the same time.

  3. DB says:

    This is why the low priority the polls show about warming is important. Very, very few legislators are going to vote for higher energy prices if their voters don’t see it as something critical.

  4. paulm says:

    I think were soon at a stage for marshal law here. After all, this is a major national disaster.

  5. ZS says:

    First of all, I agree that the assertion that green policies are economically damaging is false.

    But even if electricity prices were increased by green economy legislation, that does not imply higher electricity BILLS for customers. This is a fact that is admittedly difficult to come to grips with at first.

    Statistically, higher electricity bills, on a state-by-state basis, are correlated with lower electricity consumption, but not higher electricity bills. Why?

    If you have a second, please take a look at these charts I put together last week (I’ve never linked to anything in a CP comment, hope this works!)

    Price of residential electricity vs. annual residential consumption per capita in 2007: http://i42.tinypic.com/2r2pzwo.jpg

    Price of residential electricity vs. electricity bill per capita as % of income: http://i44.tinypic.com/2irvq53.jpg

    The first chart supports the logical assumption that higher electricity bills lead to lower rates of consumption. There are some aberrations to be sure, but the trend is clear.

    The second chart shows that as electricity prices increase, electricity bills as a % of income are not statistically impacted in either direction. Bills hover between 1% and 2% of income, regardless of the price, and the trend line is almost exactly flat.

    Progressive energy efficiency standards, as Joe has written about many times, reduce the demand for electricity consumption to the point that lower consumption outweighs relatively higher prices. California is a good example. In 2007 California paid the 8th highest retail rate for residential electricity in the United States, at almost 15 cents/kWh. Yet their per capita consumption was so low that they also paid the lowest bill in the country as a % of their annual incomes (well, they tied for lowest, with Colorado & Wyoming).

  6. paulm says:

    And why does he have to be about dictating policy. I fear we are at a stage where it will have to come to this.

    Obama Administration/EPA:…

    But after campaigning against Bush’s environmental record, Obama must be careful that he not be seen as dictating policy from the White House.

  7. The clear message is that the United States Senate believes that American utility customers should not be burdened with the cost of CO2 mitigation. Maybe later, once the economy improves? Looks like an embarrassing stumble for the Green Team. Joe was right when he warned of premature action here.

    Sen. Boxer’s amendment says that revenues (presumably from auctions and fines) will go to offsetting the additional cost to consumers from rate hikes due to the revenue collection. So money is collected from the utilities, then paid to consumers, then paid to the utilities. Nothing will be done to mitigate CO2, but some money will be shuffled around.

    The utilities will in effect buy licenses to profit from pollution as usual and make the utility customers assume the cost, reimbursed by the US government, so we can pretend that something is being done about global climate change.

    What would happen to cap auction revenues remains the sticking point for future legislation. I hope the revenues can be put into a dedicated fund for transmission lines and CO2 mitigation technology development and deployment, instead of a consumer reimbursement fund.

  8. Sasparilla says:

    I suppose, in the end, we wanted things to end in a heap this year from congress (so we can try to get something better – if at all – next year, counting on Obama doing something with China on this). But that still seems like seriously wishful thinking (that we’d get the numbers next year for any climate bill that isn’t a total greenwash/sellout piece of legislation – that won’t do the minimum needed).

    All that said, its very sad to see by how much our elected officials continue to fail us with regards to this threat – we totally can’t count on them. It seems the EPA is the only hope we’ve got in the US and we’d better pray the Admin here doesn’t horse trade the EPA’s power away to our coal/oil black democratic/republican representatives for something (which they’ve hinted at). In the end the EPA may be all we end up having to count on for much of this decade.

  9. charlesH says:

    Am I missing something? Europe has aggressively implemented cap and trade, wind, solar etc and have not reduced co2. Why should any American politician believe that mandating the same in the US would have any different result other than shipping more jobs out of the country?

    [JR: They haven't been aggressive, in fact, but they have reduced CO2.]

  10. Scatman says:

    Stimulus package spending on energy and water, 48.9 billion
    Energy efficiency and renewable energy, 18.5 billion
    Modernizing electric grid, 17.4 billion.
    Most of the energy and water money will be spent after 2011.

  11. Scatman says:

    Ok the department of energy, which I assume this article refers to is getting 24.3 billion.
    No money for cap and trade in this budget but…..

    The Atlantic, Mark Arbinder

    On cap-and-trade, one can make an argument that a downpayment in the budget would have been helpful to the administration. But the political reality is a standalone bill — which would include, as the President himself hinted last night, money to account for regional differences in energy production and measures protecting Americans from spikes in electricity bills — would have a better chance at passage. So far as I can tell, other major difference is that where the White House provided guidance about how to fund and structure a 10-year $684 billion health care reserve fund; Congress provides for a similar facility, but does not specify gross savings — the White House was more specific. Under both proposals, appropriations committees will be tasked with coming up with legislation that nets to zero. That’s kind of exactly what the White House had hoped for. A minor difference: the farm-state senators won’t go along with the President’s agriculture subsidy cuts.