The Waxman-Markey Bill – PRO
Issue date: 6/18/09
There are multiple perspectives being offered on a federal climate change bill called the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill’s authors, Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, laud the bill as strong and tough on coal. The environmental camp is split into those who feel passing this bill is better than passing nothing, and those who think the bill is so weak it should fail. The bill’s opponents think it will bring about economic Armageddon.
For the record, I’d like to see a bill that slashes greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, sells 100 percent of all its “permits to pollute” to industry for a steep price, has zero offsets, prevents construction of all new coal-fired power plants and invests $50 billion a year in clean energy. I’m feeling like Alex Rodriguez in the playoffs: 0 for 5.
The near-term target reduces emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, equivalent to 4 percent below 1990 levels. Most of the permits to pollute are given away for free. There are billions of tons of offsets available for use, coal plants can still be built and only $10 billion a year is invested in clean energy. Easy to make it sound bad. The reality is proponents of the bill exaggerate its strength, some environmentalists exaggerate its weakness and opponents are just plain wrong.
Take the 2020 emissions reduction target; it seems far too weak, until you look at the energy provisions in the bill, including a 20 percent renewable electricity standard, increasing emissions standards for existing coal plants and a mandate that all new buildings be 30 percent more efficient than they are now by 2012 and 50 percent more efficient by 2016. When these additional provisions are factored in, the bill can achieve a maximum reduction of 17 percent below 1990 levels. We’re going to overshoot our target. The energy efficiency provisions in the bill alone would save each American household $750 by 2020 and create 250,000 jobs.
Ideally, you would want polluters to pay for 100 percent of the permits to pollute. The first test of the provision is how many permits are sold versus how many are given away for free. The bill fails here, giving away 85 percent at no cost. The bill is criticized as a massive corporate concession. Such quick judgment has disregarded the second test: How many of the permits are given away to public purposes versus to private industry? The critics have overlooked the fact that 80 percent of the permits are allocated to public purposes such as consumer rebates, low-income relief, international and domestic adaptation and technology transfer, just to name a few. Not a corporate giveaway.
These are just two examples of how the bill has been misrepresented. Opponents are expected to do this, but environmentalists undermine public support by calling the bill a lost cause. The media reports the misrepresentations of both sides, and neither gives Americans a reason to mobilize to make the bill stronger. It’s a real shame, since this bill is the only chance we have to get an international treaty in Copenhagen at the end of the year. As it currently stands, the legislation is mediocre, and it needs to be made stronger. Simply increasing the energy efficiency mandate by 5 percent would yield an extra $50 billion in consumer savings by 2030.
There’s potential to do that and more, but people need to be inspired to step up. So, if you support producing more clean energy and less pollution, call your congressman. If you’re opposed, I’ve already cut your phone lines.
Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org