Straight Up: What to look for in the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill.

On Monday, Senators Graham (R-SC), Kerry (D-MA), and Lieberman (I-CT) will launch the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill.  I’m quite certain there will be something in it to dissatisfy everyone.

On the other hand, has Congress ever passed a significant bill that didn’t dissatisfy everyone, particularly on the environment?  We haven’t had a major piece of clean air legislation for almost exactly two decades now.  The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (EPA history here), which ultimately passed by large margins, put in place a cap-and-trade system for acid rain pollution, but didn’t end the grandfathering of old coal plants.  And so they burn on.

No bill that could pass Congress right now or in the immediate future would be sufficient to put us on the path to stabilizing the world at 2°C. We simply aren’t sufficiently desperate to do what is needed, which is nonstop deployment of a staggering amount of low-carbon energy, including efficiency, for the rest of the century.

And so my criteria for judging the bill focuses on whether it will create the conditions that will allow more desperate policy makers in the not-too-distant future to have a realistic chance of getting on the necessary path.  My new book Straight Up includes one essay on the House’s astonishing yet dissatisfying achievement in passing the Waxman-Markey bill.  It explains that when we are that desperate, probably in the 2020s, we’ll want to already have:

  • substantially dropped below the business-as-usual emissions path
  • started every major business planning for much deeper reductions
  • goosed the cleantech venture and financing community
  • put in place the entire framework for U.S. climate regulations
  • accelerated many tens of gigawatts of different types of low-carbon energy into the marketplace
  • put billions into developing advanced low-carbon technology
  • started building out the smart, green grid of the 21st century
  • trained and created millions of clean energy jobs
  • negotiated a working international climate regime
  • brought China into the process

Waxman-Markey, had it become the law of the land, would have achieved all of those vital goals.  And that’s why I strongly supported it, even though its 2020 target and use of offsets meant that it was, from a purely scientific perspective, unsatisfactory.

The Senate bill will no doubt be weaker than the House bill, but my criteria remain the same.  There is one other criterion that many people, including me, feel is important:  Does the bill finally start shutting down the grandfathered coal plants — the dirtiest of the dirty? The answer to that question for the House bill was “Hell yes.”  But what about the Senate bill?  The answer to that question will be the focus of Part 2.

history on the bipartisan CAA amendments for all you enviro-Jane’s out there, courtesy of EPA

16 Responses to Straight Up: What to look for in the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill.

  1. Michael Flanning says:

    Climate doesn’t change by influence of legislation. They can try to regulate people and tax people. They seemingly can’t improve the economy even though they said the legislation would create jobs and economic growth.

    [JR: Where do you conserva-bots come from? Obama and the Democratic Congress ended the Bush-Cheney depression, which had been destroying jobs at the rate of 600,000 to 700,000 a month and turned that around to net job growth within a year. Seriously, you conserva-bots I guess our program to repeat right-wing talking points that defy the very science and logic that were needed to manufacture you and your sophisticated microelectronics and artificial “intelligence”!]

  2. mike says:

    I don’t think it will pass if it includes a gasoline tax. If it does pass with 60 votes, i.e. all 59 Democrats + 1 Republican (Graham obviously), then it will further enrage the right-wing. The only difference is that the right will now have legitimate ammunition to say Obama and the Democtrats just managed to increase taxes on the poor and middle class as apposed to the wealthy.

    [JR: The conserva-bots are out in force with the erroneous talking points!]

  3. Wit's End says:

    The Guardian has obtained information about the coalition trying to slow the EPA regulations:

  4. Oliver James says:

    Your criteria are excellent. Agree completely on your approach for evaluating what is “good enough” right now.

  5. mike roddy says:

    Fear of enraging the right wing of the Republican Party shows just how intimidated some people have become. No matter what is done on climate is going to piss those guys off. However, the timing may not be good for a pure gas tax this time around. Better to remove tax and depreciation breaks for fossil fuel industries, and begin to charge them for externalities- including at the source. The result will be the same as a tax, but blame will be directed where it belongs.

    Actually, the Republican anti-climate legislation goose step is going to damage them in the end. There are a fair number of Republicans who support action to reduce emissions, and if they want to marginalize their intelligent voters, they will be left with corporate money and Limbaugh acolytes. The American people are not dumb enough to allow that bunch to manage this country, especially if Republican Senators continue to vote as some sort of nightmare phalanx, opposed to progress on any issue.

    Thanks for jumping on the deniers today, Joe. My message to them is to visit places like Climate Depot or Climate Audit. You’ll get some Sing it Brother support from the airheads over there. CP readers are a little more awake than that.

  6. AlCrawford says:

    If we assume that Waxman-Markey passes as it is, or a similar bill that meets all the criteria, would man have a chance at 2C degrees in the 2020’s? Or would we be shooting for say 3C degrees. And, if so, what would the ultimate effect on civilization be in 200 or 300 years?

  7. Bob Wallace says:

    Just some of your points…

    “It explains that when we are that desperate, probably in the 2020s, we’ll want to already have:

    * started every major business planning for much deeper reductions”

    Underway. Businesses understand the bottom line. They know that cutting energy use increases profits and/or makes them more competitive. And many have pushed the pencil to see how installing solar on their roofs can work for them.

    “* accelerated many tens of gigawatts of different types of low-carbon energy into the marketplace”

    Last year we added almost half a gig of solar, almost 10 gigs of wind, and started work on 9 gigs of geothermal. And that’s in the middle of the second greatest economic disturbance in our country’s history.

    Solar prices are rapidly dropping, home installations doubled last year (during the Great Depression). Solar is going to boom. Look for lots of commercial rooftop solar in the Southwest in the coming months.

    * put billions into developing advanced low-carbon technology

    OK, but we can do the job with the technology we have at hand. Better is better of course, but it’s not necessary.

    Also we’ve reached the point where corporations are investing billions into renewable research. Government money seems to have done its job kick-starting the process. We do need to keep funding the basic research that industry is reluctant to support.

    * started building out the smart, green grid of the 21st century

    Underway. Thousands of smart meters are being installed. Remote monitors and remote controls are being installed to make the grid smarter.

    Utility companies understand that technology can work for them and they won’t hold back on installing what works.

    (PG&E would love to have some around here. For the second time in a month several thousand customers lost power due to a tree branch taking out a power line. PG&E had several crews out looking for the damage and how to reroute power to get some folks back on line. With built-in monitors and remote switching they could have done those jobs in a minute and not had to put their coffee cup down. Those electronic gadgets will pay for themselves very quickly.)

    “* brought China into the process”

    Seems to me it’s more about China dragging us along. They broke into a fast trot awhile back and we’re still walking.

  8. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Joe I agree with your goals, except I think we need to get better legislation well before 2020. Perhaps it can happen when it’s clear to the fence-sitters that we’re having the hottest year ever and arctic ice reaches a new minimum. But I fear Mike #2 has a point – the conservative attack won’t be “legitimate” but it will come and may be effective in the short-term for the November election. One strategy might be for the lame-duck Congress to act right after the election.

  9. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe wrote: “… when we are that desperate, probably in the 2020s …”

    It will be too late. The reality is that it may already be too late. We need to deal with that, not pretend that we have another 15 years to “get desperate”.

    After all, what is it that will make us “that desperate” in the 2020s? Massive human suffering and death and widespread ecological and economic collapse, maybe? And then when the worst is crushing us, then we will take the actions that we already know we should be taking now?

    [JR: It may, but as I’ve written I don’t think it is. Everyone who understands the facts of climate science is desperate now. Sadly, that remains a small minority thanks in part to the most successful disinformation campaign in human history.]

  10. MarkL says:

    Good points. I’m planning on writing to my Senators and asking them to support the bill in the strongest form possible. If I were to stress including one, two or at most three of the above suggestions in the final bill, what should they be? Or would it be better to just ask them to work for something more general, like “deploy existing clean energy technology as soon as possible”?

    Thanks for the advice, and all the great blogs,

  11. mike roddy says:

    Good ones, Secular Animist #9, and Joe’s answer, too.

  12. I think conservabot #2 is right. It won’t pass if it increases the gas tax at the pump, as Kerry recognizes. It should control emissions in the transportation with a cap and fee on fuel producers. I support the tax on gas consumers, but it is not politically possible at this time.

  13. Bob Wallace says:

    A new/increased gas tax is a political non-starter. Especially with the price of oil already causing increased pump prices and threatening to take us back to the bad old days of $4 and $5 gas.

    Cranking up the fleet efficiency was a great step. Putting money into creating EVs and PHEVs was another great step. And committing the federal government to purchasing a significant number of electric vehicles yet another.

    EVs are going to be considerably less expensive to operate than are petroleum-fueled vehicles. Anything that speeds the process to bring more affordable, longer range EVs to the market is going to accelerate the transition away from oil.

  14. Demeur says:

    The problem with the energy policy at the moment is that it’s a haphazard patchwork of ideas. Some of it was incorporated into the Stimulus Bill but you need to remember that the last energy bill was drawn up by Cheney with the oil companies behind closed doors.

    I’m almost sure that big oil would love nothing more than getting a lock on green energy but they are not willing until they’ve sold us all the oil and coal that’s in the ground. That wouldn’t happen until 2050 by present estimates.

  15. Robert Nagle says:

    John Kerry indicates that agriculture will be entirely exempt from the cap of carbon . Why does agriculture deserve a special exemption like this?

  16. Leif says:

    Why does agriculture deserve a special exemption like this? Robert N, #15: I believe the sort answer is that the big players in Agriculture live in predominately Red states. There is every reason that Agriculture should be pro green but for the most part those folks still think “green backs” before green economy. There is nothing to be gained by making more enemies than we have to at the present.