Environmental groups urge Pelosi to toughen bill

Twenty major environmental groups sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter (here) urging that she make three key improvements in the Waxman-Markey bill and reject attempts to weaken it.

The groups, which include the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society, Environment America, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resource Defense Council, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, want to

  • “Increase the portion of pollution allowance value dedicated to delivering” clean energy;
  • “Preserve EPA’s ability under the Clean Air Act [CAA] to require existing power plants, refineries and other sources to meet up-to-date carbon pollution standards”; and
  • Strengthen the renewable energy and energy efficiency standard as follows:

Strengthen renewable electricity provisions to achieve 20 percent of sales generated from clean renewable energy by 2020, including the flexibility to achieve another 3 percent that could come from either efficiency or renewables by 2020. Increase the energy efficiency requirement so that utilities achieve 10% energy efficiency by 2020.  Strengthening these standards will generate hundreds of thousands of new clean energy jobs.

Can’t argue with any of those improvements (with caveat on CAA below).

If I had to pick one to fight for, it would be strengthening the energy efficiency standards.  Given how lame the renewable standards are in the Senate bill and given how big a push Obama and Congress have given to renewables in the stimulus — see “EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!” — (and are planning to give in various pieces of legislation, including Waxman-Markey), I have doubts that the final bill will substantially increase renewable energy beyond business as usual.

But energy efficiency is the clean energy strategy that

  • can deliver the most low-cost kiloWatt-hours
  • needs the most help from legislation to tear down market barriers


I know many enviros want to preserve the CAA authority, but I do not believe that the Obama EPA was realistically going to use the CAA to “require existing power plants, refineries and other sources to meet up-to-date carbon pollution standards.”  Using the CAA to regulate existing power plants would take many years, require waiting for the states to demonstrably fail to take action, involve multiple lawsuits, and could easily be overturned by a subsequent administration.

Obama would, I think, have used the CAA authority to regulate new sources.  Since he has already announced the most aggressive action on new vehicle greenhouse gas emissions (see “Obama to raise new car fuel efficiency standard to 39 mpg by 2016 “” The biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2“), that mainly leaves new coal plants.  I’m not sure if Obama would have block every new dirty coal plant with the CAA, but he certainly would have blocked a great many of them.  But I think W-M is going to block as many as Obama would have, so I’m not certain it preserving this authority is worth a humongous political fight.

If you’re going to expend a lot of political capital, you should do so for something you can win and which would have a big impact.  That I think is most true of strengthening the efficiency standard, though it may well be possible to get some more allowances for clean energy and that is worth pushing for.

The other change I would certainly fight for, as I’ve discussed, is to sunset the offsets provision.

Finally, I agree 100% with the green groups when they write:

Unfortunately, some members of Congress and special interests have said they would like to roll back the already weakened target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. We urge you to reject any effort to weaken these targets. We also urge you to preserve the provision ensuring that the latest science informs the policy and strengthen the policy response to that science.

Our top priority is to enact legislation that jump-starts a clean energy economy, creates millions of clean energy jobs and reduces global warming pollution while giving the U.S. credibility to lead international negotiations on climate change. By strengthening and passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the House of Representatives can take a critical step towards accomplishing that goal.

7 Responses to Environmental groups urge Pelosi to toughen bill

  1. Matt Dernoga says:

    Hey Joe, it’s good to see you’re for the energy efficiency standard the most too. I had a post on this letter yesterday

    Originally energy efficiency and renewables were going to be combined, and I actually argued to Steny Hoyer’s Senior Policy Advisor and to the state enviros that they should be separated and the focus should be on reestablishing an efficiency standard. By sheer coincidence that’s what ended up happening, which is good to see. Now lets hope that isn’t defying political gravity.

  2. Modesty says:


    The extent to which new coal plants are blocked is critical. Could you do a post where you expand on this:

    “I’m not sure if Obama would have block every new dirty coal plant with the CAA, but he certainly would have blocked a great many of them. But I think W-M is going to block as many as Obama would have, so I’m not certain it preserving this authority is worth a humongous political fight.”

    Or just link to one you’ve already done?


    [JR: I will if you use your real name :)]

  3. Matt Dernoga says:

    One additional thing people might want to know is 3 additional developments, which we’ve sort of been going back and forth on. Someone I know in an environmental organization had a conversation of Conngressman Paul Sarbanes last night, and these were the three things he said(or partially re-affirmed)

    1. Leadership (I think Pelosi and/or Waxman) called a ‘whip” meeting for 5:30 pm tonight to talk about getting the bill passed on the floor. Sarbanes is going to that meeting.

    2. He said it is a 50/50 chance that the Ag committee will even get to mark up the bill. Peterson is trying to cut a deal and if he succeeds then the committee will just vote once without any amendments.

    3. The other interesting thing he said is that folks are doing political calculations about passing health care before climate change. There is a chance that the house won’t have time for both issues before July recess and he said the feeling is that voters would be most upset if health care doesn’t pass.


    [JR: The climate bill should only take about a week on the floor — this isn’t the Senate. So I really don’t see why the House can’t do both, especially since there isn’t a health care bill yet.]

  4. Peter Wood says:

    I agree with you Joe on energy efficiency provisions.

    For me the most important issues with Waxman-Markey are how much it reduces emissions, how much it facilitates an international agreement, and how flexible it is in terms of being tightened further. These possible improvements have to be weighed up against what could be passed through congress.

    On reducing emissions, a tighter cap should be implemented, and a higher price floor should be implemented. A sufficiently high price floor would provide a very long term signal, which would guarantee no more new coal plants, and provide a strong incentive for much more well designed buildings.

    To facilitate an international agreement, more auction revenue needs to be allocated to international technology and adaptation assistance.

    My inspiration for bringing up flexibility for emissions reductions to be tightened further is the Montreal Protocol for Reducing Ozone Depleting Substances — the most successful environmental treaty ever. When it was first proposed, the emissions reductions were relatively weak. But in the next few years it was tightened considerably. Scott Barrett’s book “Environment and Statecraft” has a good account of the Montreal Protocol. None of the countries proposing targets in the UNFCCC negotiations at the moment are suggesting targets that would involve them playing their proportionate part in stabilising greenhouse gas levels at anything near 450 ppm. So sometime after Copenhagen (but before 2020) we will need to find a way for all countries to tighten their targets.

  5. Ken says:


    Would a strengthening of efficiency standards in itself provide any environmental benefit? Less energy use means electricity generators and fuel refineries can meet their compliance requirements with more coal and shale oil. Under a fixed cap, trying to push any particular decarbonization strategy is a zero-sum game.

    Of course, efficiency can provide cost benefits, as many efficiency measures have zero or negative net costs. But with the cap fixed, greater reliance on efficiency means delayed and deferred development of carbon-neutral energy sources, which will be crucial to achieve 80%+ emission reduction by 2050 with or without efficiency gains.

    Also, why the inordinate fixation on “caps and standards”? What about incentive policies, e.g. feebates for household appliances, or financing incentives?

  6. I have to disagree with you about the advantage of preserving EPA’s ability to regulate coal under the Clean Air Act. For my money, that’s the single most critical thing we need to change about W-M. The reasons are very straightforward. Many of the mechanisms we are putting in place with Waxman-Markey will have delayed effects. Others rely upon new program design that will undoubtedly have some startup problems. The EPA gives us a tool that operates in a way we already understand to produce very predictable results. It also gives us the chance to produce results quickly. It’s the fail-safe mechanism we must have. If we really believe that rapid results are important, this is the battle to fight.

  7. Dan says:

    Other environmental groups sent a letter to the Ways and Means Committee today:

    Let’s not forget the smaller guys!