In a speech on the Senate floor last Thursday, Sen. Byron Dorgan expressed his strong opposition to the establishment of a carbon market, sharply criticizing the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy and Security Act, saying the bill would “find very little favor from me” if it were brought to a Senate vote:
Those in the Senate who are working very hard and talking about the issue of climate change and how we might want to cap carbon and what kind of a low-carbon future we might be able to do should understand at least there are some of us — and I certainly speak only for myself — who believe that cap-and-trade — quote, unquote around the “trade” — makes no sense to me. I don’t think we ought to embrace cap-and-trade, I think we ought to embrace a cap with different approaches.
And so, Mr. President, I will have more to say on this, but I wanted to explain at least as those who are writing this bill and attempting to take that which was produced in the House with 400-and-some pages on cap-and-trade, I want them to understand that some of us will resist very aggressively the “trade” side of “cap-and-trade.”
Dorgan’s concerns about “consigning our interest with respect to a carbon restrained future to a trading system of carbon securities that the biggest trading companies in the world have an interest in” have been widely noted, after he ran an op-ed that summarized his floor speech. Joe Romm wonders “if he is proposing to reduce emissions without using the free market,” and discusses how the carbon market established by Waxman-Markey would limit speculation and manipulation. Paul Krugman eviscerates Dorgan’s broadside attack on any kind of carbon market:
This is really bad — it’s not a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good, it’s a case of the perfect being an enemy of the planet.
“By all means keep a watchful eye on speculators and regulate derivatives — and make market manipulation illegal, as Waxman-Markey does,” Krugman writes. “But don’t apply standards to emissions trading that you don’t apply to any other market.” Thanks to Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), Waxman-Markey also closes loopholes in existing energy markets. Brad Plumer notes that Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have introduced legislation to establish even stronger carbon market regulation.
In his 18-minute speech, Dorgan reiterated his commitment to a “low-carbon future,” but said the Congress should not “create targets and timelines for CO2 emissions that are simply unachievable.” He argued that the energy legislation he helped craft in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee should be passed “first,” as he believes it “is a significant step toward the climate change challenge.”
In fact, the “targets and timelines” in Waxman-Markey — including a 14 percent reduction in current emissions levels and a renewable electricity standard of 15 percent by 2020 — are of course eminently achievable. Unfortunately, it is an open question whether such targets are sufficient to avoid climate catastrophe. Further, numerous studies have found that stronger targets lead to more innovation and job creation — just what the American economy needs now.
As Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta has pointed out, the Senate energy bill is “weak, toothless, and unacceptable.” In line with Bush-era energy bills, the bill fails to limit carbon pollution while promoting an expansion of fossil fuel production. Dorgan’s renewable standards are considerably weaker than the Waxman-Markey target, which itself is projected to have little effect on business-as-usual growth of clean energy. The Senate energy bill has helpful provisions for a clean, smart energy grid, but it is not comparable to the American Clean Energy and Security Act. A bill without mandated global warming pollution reductions simply does not address the “climate change challenge.”
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