The climate/energy bill is dead this year. Senator John Kerry thinks that the Senate might get around to passing a huge, highly controversial lame duck bill in the middle of a campaign season. He may be alone in that delusion; the rest of us need to face reality. Reality is that the road to a comprehensive, halfway decent climate/energy bill will not, in all likelihood, not be traversed any time soon.
Excellent post-mortems can be found by David Roberts (there's no silver lining in this cloud), Paul Krugman (Who cooked the planet?), and Tom Friedman ("we're gonna be sorry"), among others. Rather than rue the road not taken, here's a few thoughts on the roads ahead.
- RES Ipsa Loquitur, or Does It?
In legalese, a "res ipsa loquitur" is a thing that speaks for itself, i.e., could not have gotten there without some human f*ckup. Think of the spilled milk, the ruptured oil well, the frying planet...oh, never mind. Cute headings aside, a RES is a requirement that electric utilities must buy a percentage (usually 15-25%) of their power from renewable sources by a certain year. A coalition will seek to add the RES into Senator Harry Reid's (D-NV) four-part bill (Land & Water Conservation Fund, Homestar (energy efficiency Improvements), Massive Oil Spill Response, and Pickens Plan for natural gas, or what I'm calling the WIMP Bill).
Reid told NN10 attendees that he doesn't even have 60 votes for a RES. Just a few hours before, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) told a handful of bloggers that he believes the 60 votes do exist. And today, a group of wind advocates including former Senator Tom Daschle assured reporters and bloggers that they are very, very confident they'll have 60-plus votes for the low Bingaman 15% RES.
Reid may not want to permit the RES as an amendment because it opens the door for other amendments. Politico explains: "Enviros said they are ready for a sneak attack in the form of a GOP-led amendment forcing the issue of cap-and-trade legislation. In other words, they fear Republicans will offer a version of the Kerry-Lieberman or Waxman-Markey bill as an amendment to Reid’s energy bill on the floor, forcing a vote that likely wouldn’t end well for climate advocates." (Personal note: I'd like to see that vote simply to know whom to hold accountable.)
- Passing the WIMP Bill
Although the WIMP bill is a tremendous disappointment, it's not worth opposing for emotional reasons. Three of the four parts (Land & Water Conservation Fund, Homestar, and the spill bill) are good, if minor, things. Even those are too much for the Americans for Prosperity; a leader told the Right Online conference to oppose any energy bill, no matter how trivial.
- EPA Regulation: Not All It's Cracked Up To Be
The World Resources Institute has crunched numbers on three versions of EPA regulation, and found that even aggressive EPA action will result in modest reduction of carbon: 12% by 2020 (the House bill, ACES, called for carbon to be reduced 17% by 2020). EPA rulemaking is slow, cumbersome, and attracts litigation. So even the best-case EPA rulemaking won't be as effective as the House's bill. I expect the Obama administration to try moderate-to-aggressive EPA regulation, and industry cash to push for a "pro-business" Republican candidate in 2012 and 2016 to undo all of Obama's work.
In the meantime, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will push hard on his Murkowski-Lite bill to suspend EPA greenhouse gas rules for two years so as to give the poor polluters a breather. Uh, Jay? We need to breathe too!
New EPA rules on greenhouse gases may not even have as much impact as EPA rules on traditional pollutants such as mercury.
Other nations won't negotiate an international treaty if the United States relies only on EPA regulation, not legislation.
- Groundwork on Coal
If the coal industry can't be fought in Congress, it needs to be fought on the ground. The Sierra Club has led the fight, one plant at a time, with great success. Appalachia Rising will lead a march on Washington September 25-27.
Coal is a problem wherever it's mined and burned. Mountaintop removal in West Virginia is seen, wrongly, as a regional issue. Open pit mines in Western states deserve as much attention as the Appalachian tragedy. I'll be writing more on this in the next weeks.
- Other clean energy bills
A barrage of bills aimed at encouraging development of clean energy has been introduced in the last few weeks. Most will die this year. I hope that a few will be reintroduced next year. None will have a direct impact on the supply of carbon, but at least they may lower the demand a bit. Slowly. Eventually. After all, it's not like we have a planetary emergency or anything.
Although the death of the climate bill is a huge disappointment, we must not give up. Nearly a year passed between the Santa Barbara oil spill and the first Earth Day. The Senators with whom I spoke at NN10 emphasized that we must not lose hope. We'll still need to fight in the Senate for a RES and against Rockefeller's Murkowski-lite bill, and on the ground against coal.