Monday, 1 June 2009

Energy Risk - Democracy at Work

Political science teaches compromise as art form. And nowhere is that tenet clearer than with the carbon constraint bill now debated by Congress.

It's one thing to have principles. It's another to pass legislation representative of those ideas, especially in a body comprised of 536 strong-willed individuals. With control of the White House and a majority in both chambers, the Democrats undoubtedly rule. But the party is certainly not homogeneous as its members represent varied interests throughout geographically diverse areas. As such, they rally behind their leaders only after they serve their constituents.

Legislation will therefore reflect that reality.

That's why the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has softened its approach to carbon reductions and why the utility sector has become less "combative." It's not a function of slick lobbyists weaning their way into political coat pockets.

It's a lesson in how democracies work.

Simply, special interests have a right to petition their government and to explain their viewpoints, resulting more palatable bills to all sides.
Waxman, a seasoned representative who holds strident views, believes that man-made greenhouse gases are the single biggest contributor to global warming and therefore wants to mandate caps on such emissions. The early phases of his legislation gave a nod to the utility industry but overall, it swung for the fence.
Democrats on his committee, however, have agreed to concessions by which such releases must be trimmed from 20 percent to 17 percent from 2005 levels and all by 2020. They will also cut their target of forcing utilities to generate 25 percent of generation from renewable energy sources to 15 percent by 2020. That allowance, though, would be made up in part by requiring eight percent gains in energy efficiency by the same time. The overall goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the main greenhouse gas component, by 80 percent by 2050 still holds. The move mollifies a utility industry that has long winced at mandatory reductions in carbon emissions. While the conciliation is less than what such companies would have hoped, they generally say that a slower timetable will allow the technology to catch up with the demands. It still says that consumers will end up paying thousands more each year.
"We want to reduce our carbon dioxide by 80 percent by 2050. So, okay, that means Americans by then instead of 20 tons would be putting out about four tons a year, and so you ask yourself the question: When did we last emit about four tons of carbon dioxide a year? And the answer is, when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock."

First Step

Environmentalists look at it differently. Some groups want lawmakers to start from scratch, saying that the industrial lobbyists have watered down the measure. A grassroots coalition of 130 community and green organizations called the says that compromises by the U.S. House Energy Committee cause the bill to "fall short."
The group goes on to say that the American people expressed themselves during the 2008 elections and did so in an unambiguous way. But the activists maintain that those calls have been waylaid by "corporate polluters" that have spent $80 million lobbying Washington in 2009 alone. ExxonMobil, for example, spent $9.3 million.
Among the steps that the group says should be implemented are a 15 percent increase in energy efficiency standards at utilities, 25 percent reductions in carbon emissions by 2025 and the removal of any federal monies for the purposes of building "clean coal" projects that it says are meant to get the coal industry on board. Meanwhile, the green group wants either a carbon tax or an auction of all carbon credits so that the cuts can start immediately and avoid perpetuating the problem by giving away billions of dollars in free credits. They also take issue with the provision that puts a halt to new coal plants until the technologies to allow them to be carbon-free become commercial, noting that the bill currently exempts 45 coal plants that are in various stages of permitting or approval.
"While we remain hopeful that Congress will do the right thing on energy and climate, we are not prepared to 'give away the farm' just so that we can say that we helped to get legislation passed. There are some costs that are too high to pay when it comes to the environment, clean air and clean water. We urge Congress to either fix the Waxman-Markey bill or dump it and start over."
The organization feels that its stance is undermined by some of its peers that are willing to bend so that the process gets underway. They include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pew Center and the Environmental Defense Fund, which collectively feel that the revised bill lays a "critical foundation" that will spur investment in clean energy and thereby create millions of new jobs.
"Just four months into the new Administration and Congress, businesses, labor, and environmental advocates are working together to unleash American innovation and make a clear break from the past."
Despite the clear Democratic majority in both chambers, the moderates actually hold the power. Any greenhouse gas reduction measure must therefore become more tenable to that group that also has close ties to industry. It's a first step but one that might end up making a world of difference.

No comments:

Post a Comment

LinkedIn Group
Xing Group
Ecademy Club
Google Coop
Search Engine