Bill Puts Polluters Before Climate

Op-ed: Public Citizen teams up Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace to discuss the flaws in Kerry-Lieberman bill

In light of the growing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Sens. John Kerry

(D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) abandoned the idea of introducing

their new climate legislation with BP’s CEO at their side.

But the public relations decision to consign BP to the sidelines cannot

hide the fact that the senators had crafted a bill that Big Oil – along

with King Coal and the nuclear lobby – could endorse.

There is no doubting Kerry and Lieberman’s commitment to addressing

climate change. However, while the senators negotiated with the energy

industry in an attempt to address inside-the-Beltway political

realities, this bill neglects climate realities – which could require a

paradigmatic shift in the energy sector, not cutting deals with fossil

fuel lobbyists.

The proposed legislation, at this point, looks like it would do more for

corporations that pollute than the environment.

The bill has strayed so far that the climate would probably be better

without it. Unacceptable levels of global warming pollution would

continue if this bill were to pass in anything like its current form.

In addition, the contradictions inherent in this climate deal seem to

bolster polluting industries and might make winning majority support in

the Senate more difficult, not easier.

And this is surely more likely now, as BP oil gushes into the Gulf.

Ultimately, the problem of deal making with polluters is not just a

matter of optics. It has led to policy proposals that undermine the

effort to achieve effective pollution reductions.

For example, Kerry-Lieberman establishes a pollution reduction target

for 2020 that fails to deliver on what scientists tell us is required to

respond to the climate crisis.

Avoiding runaway global warming, these scientists say, requires rapidly

reducing pollution in the next five to 10 years. Strong goals for 30

years out will be moot if global warming pollution does not peak by

2015.

Kerry-Lieberman also envisions a continuing dominance of dirty

technologies. It even offers subsidies and gifts to coal (for carbon

capture and storage), oil (expanded offshore drilling) and nuclear power

(expanded taxpayer bailout guarantees for new reactors).

Each of these wastes scarce resources that could be invested in clean

energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal power.

Kerry-Lieberman could also significantly undermine the Clean Air Act’s

protections against climate pollution, removing the most powerful

existing federal tool that can protect citizens from the effects of a

destabilized climate.

Kerry-Lieberman relies on pollution trading schemes that could be fodder

for Wall Street manipulation – schemes that look certain to undermine

rather than advance carbon reduction efforts.

At least initially, the proposed bill gives away pollution allowances

rather than auctioning them. As a result, consumers could foot the bill

while electric utilities reap potential windfall profits.

The proposed legislation also relies on offset loopholes – often empty

promises to “achieve” emissions reductions elsewhere.

These are the sort of promises that have led, in other cases, to

international fraud and abuse.

And the proposed bill seems likely to fail to generate enough funding to

fulfill Washington’s obligations to help developing countries adapt to

global warming.

The absence of international finance, coupled with a weak pollution

reduction target, could seriously undermine the likelihood of an

international climate treaty anytime soon.

We do not expect that climate legislation can ever be perfect. But, at a

minimum, it does need to take us in the right direction.

Any climate bill that moves forward must retain strong consumer

protections, reflect the polluter-pays principle and respect existing

federal and state tools – which remain overall more promising avenues

for reducing global warming pollution.

As we face this grave challenge to the planet, the Gulf oil spill should

remind us that we need serious policy changes now.

Averting devastating climate change will come not from an accommodation

with the corporate purveyors of the dirty energy past but from embracing

the challenge of becoming more efficient – and recalibrating the world

economy to rely on clean, renewable energy.

The Op-ed appeared in Politico on May 21st.

Authored by Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, Phil Radford,

executive director of Greenpeace and Robert Weissman, president of Public

Citizen.