It has been three months since President Barack Obama and the United States took an important step toward leading the world in developing the Copenhagen Accord, a breakthrough new global agreement among almost 120 nations, including China and the developing world, to reduce emissions, increase transparency and support international climate change investments.
At its foundation is a new economic reality that the leaders of the 21st century will be those committed to clean energy economies.
The United States, with our innovative spirit and entrepreneurial vitality, is positioned to lead the way “” if we seize the opportunity staring us in the face.
In the coming weeks the Senate will have a historic opportunity to debate legislation that will make our way easier. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Obama are committed to make this the year that the United States finally passes comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. Further delay would only exacerbate the risk of falling behind in the emerging global competition for clean energy jobs, manufacturing and markets. The bipartisan legislation that Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and I have been working to complete presents an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.
We begin not just by curbing man-made carbon emissions that are contributing to climate change at an alarming rate but by also establishing incentives for private investment in clean energy technology industries. Over the next 10 years, those investments can create as many as 1.9 million jobs, increase household incomes by up to $1,175 a year and boost the gross domestic product as much as $111 billion.
This is a national security imperative. And, as we make the transition to a clean energy economy, we will reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources, a dependence that now takes almost $500 billion a year out of our economy “” about $1,400 a year for every man, woman and child in America “” and ships it to too many countries that don’t share our values. In the long run, it imposes an onerous and unsustainable burden on the men and women of our armed forces who are deployed to protect our national security.
As a bedrock global economic issue, the alarm bells are just as compelling: Other countries are rushing ahead while policymakers in the United States try to reach a consensus on how to proceed forward to an economy fueled by clean and sustainable energy sources. China, in particular, is moving rapidly to become the leader of the global clean energy economy. The Chinese just raised auto efficiency standards to 36.7 miles per gallon, higher than our new target for 2016. Today its renewable capacity is only 2 percent less than the United States, and it is set to grow rapidly from almost 10 percent of its energy use to 15 percent by 2020. And last year, for the first time, Chinese investment in renewable energy exceeded ours, skyrocketing 50 percent.
The clean energy industry is still in its infancy in the United States and yet already relatively substantial in its size “” with 770,000 jobs (and growing three times faster than jobs in general), venture capital exceeding $12 billion and public investments of $85 billion in direct spending and tax credits. A comprehensive national strategy for a clean energy future would produce explosive economic growth “” at a time when America needs it most. And just as importantly, it will put our country on the path to sustainable long-term economic growth.
We have not lost our ability to take on big challenges. We have acted boldly in every crisis that we have faced as a nation. The New Deal helped lift America from the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930s. The Marshall Plan helped restore stability in Europe in the 1940s and ’50s. The Apollo Project put a man on the moon in the 1960s. And the Pentagon’s ARPANET program formed the backbone of the Internet that spawned the information and technology boom of the ’90s.
For nearly half a century, we were willing to pay any price and bear any burden to win the Cold War. The threat from Soviet nuclear warheads was a clear and present danger in our lives.
Just as clear and present is the danger climate change poses to our economy and national security. We cannot drill and burn our way out of danger. But we can invent and invest our way out of it by leveraging a shift to a clean energy economy that will allow America to do what America always does best “” lead the way into the future.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
A wise man once said, “Great ideas originate in the muscles.” That man, Thomas Edison, launched the original electricity revolution. As Congress moves to end our addiction to foreign oil, we would also be wise to look to the muscle of the American worker.
The comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation “” the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act “” that passed the House with bipartisan support last year is a jobs-generator and a money-saver that offers a solution to our energy, national security and economic challenges.
By investing in clean energy jobs that can’t be shipped overseas, our bill rests on the foundation of a compromise reached with a diverse group of business leaders, labor unions, consumer groups and environmental organizations who worked with us to craft legislation that will unleash private-sector investment in clean energy and efficiency technologies that will save families and businesses money.
If we do not take the lead in this clean energy challenge, we will lose jobs now, later and possibly forever.
Last year, China surged past the United States to become the top investor in clean energy. Driven by a $34.6 billion investment in technology, which doubled their previous efforts, the Chinese are landing new manufacturing jobs instead of the United States.
In America, we invented solar. But now we trail Germany in solar deployment. In 2008, the Europeans added 13 times more solar energy capacity than the United States.
In January, the Burj Khalifa “” the tallest building on the face of the planet “” opened in the oil-rich Dubai. Every story stretching skyward tells the tale of the largest transfer of wealth in the world “” the $200 billion American consumers sent abroad last year to buy foreign oil and petroleum products, representing more than 40 percent of our trade deficit.
Meanwhile, across the Persian Gulf in Iraq and Afghanistan, oil addiction keeps American troops in harm’s way.
The House of Representatives has stepped up and said enough is enough.
The world cannot agree a final climate deal this year, outgoing U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer told Reuters on Sunday, saying the focus should be on practical steps to help the poor and save forests.
De Boer was speaking on the sidelines of the first U.N. talks since a bad-tempered summit in Copenhagen in December fell short of agreeing the full legal treaty many nations had wanted.
Negotiators at the April 9-11 talks in Bonn struggled to find a formula to revive negotiations on a pact to combat global warming and agree a schedule before the next annual ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico in November and December.
“I don’t think Cancun will provide the final outcome,” said de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. climate change secretariat, who steps down in July after almost four years.
“I think that Cancun can agree an operational architecture but turning that into a treaty, if that is the decision, will take more time beyond Mexico. I think that we will have many more rounds of climate change negotiations before the ultimate solution is arrived at.”
Many delegates at the Bonn talks were gloomy about the outlook, saying the negotiations to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol after 2012 had lost momentum.
De Boer said the focus should be on practical actions to slow climate change, rather than trying to make a deal legally binding — a major barrier to progress so far.
“We have legally binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol but it’s very difficult to take a country to court if a target is not met. Perhaps the rules and instruments, the compliance that is put in place, is even more important than the international legal definition.”
De Boer said many scientists were advocating a halving of world greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “Even in my wildest dreams I don’t think that Cancun in detail is going to define exactly how that will be achieved,” he said.
After two years of talks the Copenhagen summit failed to agree a successor to Kyoto, but more than 110 countries have since signed a non-binding accord. U.S. President Barack Obama is one of its top supporters.
The accord pledged $30 billion from 2010-2012 to help the poor face the impacts of climate change, such as floods, droughts, mudslides and rising seas.
It also sought to keep a rise in average world temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) from pre-industrial times. But it did not spell out how this should be done.
De Boer described the Copenhagen Accord as a “very important outcome,” but many developing countries in Bonn rejected further mention of it in U.N. talks, underscoring tension with the United States, which never ratified Kyoto.
The mood in Bonn was also soured by Bolivia’s claim that the United States and Denmark had withdrawn funding to the Latin American nation, which opposes the accord.
De Boer said the most needy should get funds to help adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.
“There is a general agreement on the question of adaptation, in that the money should go primarily to small island countries, to least developed countries and to African nations.”
“I hope that the decision in Cancun will be that irrespective of how those countries feel about the Copenhagen accord they should be eligible for adaptation support.”
Six months after introducing a sweeping climate change bill that flopped in the Senate, Democrat John Kerry is preparing to offer a compromise measure that seeks to reel in reluctant senators.
Kerry, collaborating with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and independent Senator Joseph Lieberman, might introduce a new bill promoting clean energy early next week, just days before the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, environmental sources said.
Despite Kerry’s consistently upbeat assessment of legislative prospects this year, the new bill also faces plenty of hurdles.
On Friday, a new problem potentially arose when U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement. President Barack Obama said he would move quickly to name a replacement.
That will trigger a Senate confirmation debate that could eat up time — like the healthcare debate did over the past year — that otherwise could be spent on the complicated, far-reaching energy and environment bill.
Reacting to the news of Stevens’ retirement, Kerry insisted there was time to pass major legislation “and still confirm a new justice.”
“Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman will unveil their proposal later this month,” Kerry spokeswoman Whitney Smith said, adding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was “committed to making this Congress the one that finally passes comprehensive energy and climate legislation.”
Last week, Obama’s top negotiator to international climate talks, Todd Stern, told Reuters that action in Congress was critical for U.S. leverage and credibility in U.N. negotiations toward a global pact controlling carbon pollution.
The United States is second only to China in emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
Other high-priority initiatives that will tie up the Senate in coming months are the federal budget for next year and an array of spending bills, including one for the war in Afghanistan. Controversial banking industry reforms and additional job-creation steps Democrats want to enact this election year also are stacked up on the runway.
Most senators and environmentalists backing attempts to reduce U.S. smokestack emissions associated with global warming think that if a bill is to be passed before November congressional elections, the Senate must do so by July, before the election campaigns heat up.
It’s crunch time for the climate bill in the Senate.
As Congress returns from recess, the Senate trio crafting a compromise global warming bill are under pressure to gain the traction needed for floor action this year.
Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) plan to unveil their long-awaited energy and climate bill the week of April 19. Earth Day is April 22.
From there, they have just weeks to build momentum and show Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that it has a strong chance of surpassing 60 votes, observers say.
“Reid can make the go or no-go decision no later than mid-May in practical terms,” said Kevin Book, an analyst with the consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners.
The Senate faces other election-year priorities – such as Wall Street reform – and will be consumed with replacing retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced Friday that he’s stepping down.
Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said Reid wants energy and climate on the 2010 agenda. “Senator Reid is still hoping that the Senate will be able to take up bipartisan, comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this year,” she said.
Book doesn’t believe that Reid needs a guarantee of more than 60 votes to put the bill on the floor, but thinks the majority leader will need evidence of strong prospects. “He needs to see a comfort zone to know that it is worth the time,” Book said.
Republican strategist Ron Bonjean agrees that Kerry, Graham and Lieberman must show quickly that they have the right recipe, given the time the Senate will spend on the Supreme Court replacement and other issues.
“In order to get a climate bill through the Senate, they would have to be ready to … get that plane off the legislative runway pretty quickly, and it doesn’t look like they are ready at the moment,” said Bonjean, a former aide to GOP leadership in both chambers.
“They need to act fast and try to gain consensus almost immediately upon return, because the Supreme Court vacancy will slow momentum for other legislation this spring and summer,” he added.
Kerry, Graham and Lieberman – christened “KGL” in energy circles – hope to win over centrist Democrats and some Republicans, whose views on cap-and-trade (or any emissions limits) generally range from skepticism to strong opposition.
The Senate trio is breaking with the House, which passed a sweeping cap-and-trade bill last year that is viewed as a non-starter in the upper chamber.
Instead they plan to propose a more limited cap-and-trade system (which they’re no longer calling cap-and-trade) applied to power plants, with other industrial plants phased in after a multi-year delay.
In a bid for oil company support – or at least neutrality – they’re planning to address transportation with a fee on motor fuels, rather than requiring refiners to obtain emissions allowances for tailpipe pollution.
KGL are also including provisions to boost nuclear power construction, wider offshore oil-and-gas drilling, and low-emissions coal projects.
The White House announced two weeks ago that it will allow expanded offshore oil-and-gas exploration – including eventual leasing in regions off the East Coast – but the administration plan leaves a role for Capitol Hill.
The Senate trio will likely include measures that give more coastal states a share of the revenue from offshore energy development, and the White House plan to shrink the no-drilling buffer in the eastern Gulf of Mexico would also require congressional approval.
Also, Graham said President Obama’s offshore drilling proposal is not expansive enough, so lawmakers seeking a deal on a climate and energy bill could require broader leasing than Obama’s Interior Department envisions.
However, that could further alienate environmental groups and liberal Democrats who are already dismayed with the White House’s drilling decision.
Despite partisan gridlock in Congress, issues such as jobs and financial regulation may win some GOP support. Still, a Supreme Court debate could overshadow it all.
Congress returns from a two-week recess Monday facing a landscape scorched from the healthcare battle, partisan gridlock seemingly worse than ever and a pitched battle expected over the Supreme Court.
Despite the unfavorable signs, President Obama and Democrats have opportunities to enact major changes — maybe even with at least a modicum of Republican support.
The fierce healthcare fight appears to have drained the desire to tackle politically bruising issues such as global warming this year, but the legislative agenda is laden with popular items that are hard to define in strictly partisan terms: legislation to extend unemployment benefits; a landmark bill to crack down on Wall Street excesses; additional efforts to bolster the still-anemic economic recovery; and possible ratification of a historic nuclear arms treaty.
The retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens puts pressure on the Senate to speed up action on top priority legislation before the court debate opens on the floor, likely this summer. The time crunch reduces the prospects for climate and immigration overhaul bills.
“Nothing’s coming easy in the Senate these days,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), “so add this [court nomination] to the list of things we’re going to have to deal with.”
But even Republican aides concede that the financial regulation bill is far enough along — it has already passed the House and is expected to come to the Senate floor in the next month — that it will not be derailed by the court debate.
The bill does not go as far as many want in reining in Wall Street, but experts say that even a more moderate version is likely to go further than any bill since the Great Depression in giving regulators power to prevent another financial crisis, avoid future bailouts and tackle the problem of institutions deemed “too big to fail.”
A measure to create more government regulation of business might sound like something Republicans would oppose. But many Republicans are as eager as Democrats to respond to the public’s angry view that Wall Street was responsible for the economy’s ills.
Before the Senate takes up financial regulation, Democratic leaders — who no longer have a filibuster-proof majority — will try to break an impasse over legislation to extend unemployment benefits that stalled on the eve of Congress’ spring recess.
Republicans had blocked the bill, arguing that the $9-billion cost of the one-month extension of benefits — which lapsed for some 212,000 people after March 31 — should be offset by other spending cuts to avoid raising the deficit.
Democrats will try to move the bill again Monday. When a similar fight was mounted a month ago, moderate Republicans broke ranks rather than allow jobless aid to expire in the name of deficit reduction. Republican leaders seem to believe that the argument has more potency now. But Democrats calculate that they will be able to gain the support of at least a few Republicans.
House and Senate Democratic leaders also hope this spring to advance legislation designed to counter a Supreme Court decision that would lift limits on campaign contributions by corporations. The bill’s prospects are unclear, but it fits into Democrats’ election-year strategy of portraying their agenda — including healthcare, student loans and financial services overhauls — as combating powerful special interests. And with an eye on Latino voters, Senate Democrats hope to bring an immigration overhaul to the floor for a vote, although prospects for enactment of a comprehensive bill are considered virtually nil.
Democrats are particularly eager to pass additional bills to spur job creation, such as pending legislation to create a lending pool for small businesses, to demonstrate their commitment to bolstering the economy.
The West Virginia coal mine explosion should compel us to work for a 21st-century energy strategy that doesn’t depend on costly and dangerous fossil fuels.
The Appalachian Mountains are the lungs of West Virginia. They are also the backbone of our nation’s most rugged state, imbuing our people, our culture, and our heritage with that same ruggedness of spirit that many identify as quintessentially American.
The mountains breathe life into our people, providing pristine vistas for spiritual renewal. For 150 years, they have given a bounty of coal that has helped fuel our nation and the world.
Generations of our sons (and recently, our daughters) have put their backs into the hard work of digging out that precious resource, and all too often have given their lives in order to provide their families with some measure of livelihood.
As an Iraq war veteran, I can understand the pride that our miners feel in their jobs, putting their lives on the line to provide our nation with a valuable resource. Soldiers and miners alike have contributed more than their share to our nation’s security and prosperity. But I have yet to meet a soldier who would wish his children off to war.
With the coal industry supporting 20 percent of the state’s economy, one could easily say that today, West Virginia is dependent on coal for survival. Monday’s explosion and tragic consequences at the Upper Big Branch mine owned by Massey Energy is a stark reminder of the true cost of this dependence, and a symptom of the societal black lungs we have been left with.
The people of Appalachia deserve better than this. The truth of West Virginia’s “dependence” on coal is full of much murkier water than Massey or state government representatives would have us believe.
It is just as likely that the coal industry itself is dependent on the continued subservience of our political leadership, dependent on the people of West Virginia, than the other way around. Last year alone, Massey was forced to pay nearly $1 million in fines by the US Mine Safety and Health Administration for noncompliance, and continues to contest hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional fines. The Upper Big Branch mine alone received over 450 safety citations in 2009, and two even on the day of the tragedy.
Yet Massey continues to treat these fines as a cost of doing business – a “cost” that now equals the loss of at least 25 workers in the worst mining accident in a quarter century. Will it be a call to action for corporate change? Don’t count on it. Massey didn’t change course after the Aracoma mine fire of 2006.
Many folks are now calling for review of the MINER Act and for stricter regulations on mine safety, giving the Mine Safety and Health Agency more teeth to do its job. Since current fines appear to cost less than compliance, this would be a good first step. But it is not a long-term solution.
Our continued national addiction to “cheap” fossil fuels is the real culprit.
We demand cheap domestic coal, and operators such as Massey respond to that demand by cutting corners, and ultimately sacrificing the blood of workers to the altar of profit.
If we want to end this waste of human life and potential, then we need to aggressively pursue other sources of energy and create lasting wealth in Appalachia built on human capital and renewable resources. For just as our energy policy is a very real threat to our national security, it continues to prove itself deadly on the domestic front.
While we must push for stricter regulation on this deadly industry, we must also demand the that Congress take action on energy and climate policy.
Without accounting for the true costs of coal and other fossil fuels, we will continue to bear unnecessary risks to secure our energy at home and abroad. Without an aggressive push to diversify the options for our Appalachian workers, they will be forced to continue the work of their fathers and grandfathers, and we will see more tragedies like this in the future.
Clean-energy manufacturing jobs, wind project development, and solar technology research and development can provide part of the solution, and give the children of our sacrificed miners a chance at a better future.
The choice is ours: We can choose to take the lead in a cleaner, safer energy economy, or we can condemn the people of West Virginia, Appalachia, and America to relive the tragedies of our past.