Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep Collin Peterson (D-MN) have reached an accord to further water down the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill in order to gain the support of farm belt Democrats. Joe Romm has analysis. There are two big concessions, one has to do with the blocking real scientific analysis of the comprehensive carbon impact of ethanol, and one has to do with switching oversight authority for agricultural offsets out of the EPA and into the Department of Agriculture. Romm has a relatively rosy take on the ethanol element, arguing that “in the real world, this part of the agreement will probably have very little consequence” largely because existing policy on this subject is already bad:
Well, as I noted before, the enviros made a terrible deal back in the 2007 Energy Bill where they agreed to allow the corn ethanol industry a mandate for 15 billion gallons with a full exemption from lifecycle analysis in return for a mandate of 22 billion gallons of nonexistent cellulosic biofuels. If they thought they could undo that deal, they were wrong.
In practice, then, we’re basically ratifying existing bad policy rather than creating any new problems. The other issue is really harder to evaluate. The whole subject of offsets is inherently very fraught. In principle, they can make compliance with tough carbon targets much easier. But in practice if you don’t evaluate these things properly they can really undermine what you’re doing. The intention of shifting oversight from the EPA to the Agriculture Department is pretty clearly a desire to get offsets scored improperly and let agricultural interests get credit for offsets that they shouldn’t get credit for. Whether or not that’s actually what happens sort of remains to be seen. A good administration that cares about getting this right should, in principle, be able to get the Agriculture Department to do things right whereas a bad administration that doesn’t care about getting this right should be able to get the EPA to do it badly.
I think on the overall question of whether or not the package is worth supporting, probably the best thing you can do is read Charlie Homans’ Waxman profile from earlier this year in The Washington Monthly. There’s simply nobody else in Congress whose record of progressive legislative accomplishments can hold a candle to Waxman’s. When you draw intersecting curves of “what needs to be done” and “what can realistically be done,” Waxman has time and again put himself at the intersection, and I think it involves a fair amount of hubris to think that you know better than him what the best feasible legislative outcome is.
That said, there’s really no getting around the fact that the best feasible legislative outcome isn’t good enough according to the climate science. What we’re left with is essentially the hope for an iterative process—a flawed bill that makes progress helps spur a productive meeting in Copenhagen helps spur some kind of bilateral deal with China which helps create the conditions for further domestic legislation. I think this is the best idea anyone has, but it’s a pretty dicey proposition. Bottom line is that to get a better bill you need a situation wherein a non-trivial number of Republicans are willing to contemplate emissions reductions. Faced with uniform Republican support for untrammeled pollution, the only viable legislative path involves buying off every Democrat.