Today, in the first hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee under the leadership of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), a coalition of corporations and environmental organizations renewed their call for an industry-friendly cap and trade system. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership made a tremendous splash two years ago by coming out in favor of a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gases. Though their recommendations overly benefited polluting industries, USCAP’s call for mandatory action changed the political tide in Washington. They deserve credit for moving past conservative rhetoric that denies the need to act, and for stating that “action by the U.S. should not be contingent on simultaneous action by other countries,” a common excuse for delay.
But climate change science and politics have moved on in the past two years, and USCAP has lost its mantle of leadership. Their proposal fails to satisfy the scientific, economic, and societal principles that must underlie any “framework for legislation to address climate change”:
EMISSIONS TARGETS. USCAP’s recommended emissions limits are insufficient to prevent catastrophic climate change. They call for U.S. emissions to be reduced by at most 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. However, as Center for American Progress fellow Joseph Romm indicated in a recent report, “A U.S. climate bill should set a target of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 20 to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.” Furthermore, USCAP calls for “generous limits on the use of offsets” of two to three billion tons of CO2 a year, which means actual emissions wouldn’t have to begin reducing until 2030.
MONEY. USCAP calls for provisions to prevent emissions permits from exceeding a “threshold price” and for “a significant portion of free allowances should be initially distributed to capped entities and economic sectors.” In other words, polluters should be protected from paying the cost of compliance with the already fatally weakened cap. This will lead to windfall profits for polluters at the expense of consumers. President-elect Barack Obama and other progressive leaders have joined the Center for American Progress in calling for full auction of emissions permits to fund public investments and protect low-income consumers from economic hardship.
USCAP members include major global warming polluters in multiple industries — chemical (Dow, DuPont, Johnson & Johnson), oil and gas (Rio Tinto, Shell, BP America), manufacturing (Alcoa, Caterpillar, Siemens, GE, Boston Scientific), automotive (Ford Motor, GM, Chrysler, Deere), and utilities (Duke, PG&E, Exelon, FPL, PNM), as well as the financial services industry that would administer a cap-and-trade system (AIG, Marsh, Xerox).
The environmental organizations in the partnership are the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the World Resources Institute, the Pew Center for Climate Change, and the Nature Conservancy. However, the National Wildlife Federation has left the partnership, saying that it instead will work to “enact a cap-and-invest bill that measures up to what scientists say is needed and makes bold investments in a clean energy economy.”
Put simply, the proposal would reward corporate polluters with hundreds of billions of dollars of giveaways, and its near-term pollution reduction targets are far weaker than what scientists have called for. The proposal is further weakened by its massive carbon offset loopholes. Were such a proposal to be enacted into law, it would fail to achieve the emission reductions we need in the U.S. and would undermine our ability to meaningfully and credibly engage in international climate negotiations. This is a dead-end approach that policymakers should reject.
1Sky‘s Gillian Caldwell:
In order to create a 21st century green economy we need bold action, not loopholes. Under this proposal, 40% of the dirtiest polluters would be allowed to keep polluting. 1Sky and its allies urge the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to draft effective energy policy that closes loopholes, and auctions 100% of pollution allowances.
ClimateProgress‘s Joe Romm:
This proposal is a dead end — and an even deader starting point. Shame on NRDC, EDF, and WRI for backing it. With this proposal, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership has officially made itself obsolete and irrelevant.
The U.S. government’s chief climate scientist, James Hansen, once said that the CEOs of big fossil fuel industries should be tried for crimes against
humanity. USCAP is their initial bid for a plea bargain.