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The congressional energy bill needs to be fixed

Posted Oct. 15, 2009 / Posted by: RConnors

How the clean energy bill was hijacked by lobbyists

When the House of Representatives started working on a clean energy bill last winter, we were optimistic. After all, our country had just come off an election in which a large majority voted for bold change and the candidate who most strongly supported clean energy. Congressional leaders were promising to pass a bill to keep the climate stable, provide us with a secure energy future, and create millions of new jobs that could revitalize our economy.

But then lobbyists from polluting corporations showed up and hijacked the process. A coalition that includes Shell Oil, the coal-burning utility Duke Energy, and other corporate polluters, as well as some environmental groups, produced a proposal around which much of the bill was based, and K Street lobbyists further weakened the bill as it moved through the legislative process. After many of these lobbyists were satisfied, the bill -- known “Waxman-Markey,” because it was sponsored by Congressmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey -- passed the House on June 26.

The bill's current flaws

The bill now showers polluting corporations with hundreds of billions of dollars, but doesn't require them to reduce pollution fast enough to avoid devastating climate change impacts. Worse, the bill guts the EPA’s preexisting authority to use the Clean Air Act to reduce this pollution. And it contains massive carbon offset loopholes that would allow U.S. polluters to keep polluting by paying for often-pretend pollution reductions overseas. 

This means the bill is counterproductive -- that enacting it into law would in some ways actually be a step backward. 

There's still time for senators to fix it

Fortunately, we can fix this bill in the Senate. Senators plan to begin considering their version of the bill in a matter of weeks, and they have the ability to show lobbyists the door and fix the House bill’s flaws.

Friends of the Earth and more than 300 allied groups agree that senators must do the following:

  • In order to avoid catastrophic climate destabilization, the Senate bill must set an economy wide cap on greenhouse emissions that is consistent with the best available science and that can be adjusted as that science further develops. The latest science warns that CO2 must be reduced to no more than 350 parts per million. The emissions reduction targets in the Waxman-Markey bill fall far short of what’s needed. 
  • The Clean Air Act already provides tools necessary to reduce greenhouse gas pollutants. Climate legislation should not repeal these existing protections. 
  • Loopholes that undermine the integrity of the cap must be eliminated. Of particular concern is the use of offsets. By allowing actual pollution from capped sources to increase, offsets not only threaten the integrity of the cap but also create can create localized toxic hotspots hat harm vulnerable communities.
  • Any mechanism to limit carbon emissions must be transparent, stable, and predictable, while minimizing the ability of private entities to manipulate the system. The bill must include protections to ensure the integrity of carbon market mechanisms. This is especially true given that the use of large quantities of offsets increases the likelihood of market instability.
  • We must live up to our international obligations on climate change. In order to achieve a global agreement to achieve needed emissions reductions, the United States must commit to deeply reducing its own emissions and provide adequate financing for clean technology deployment and adaptation to climate change impacts around he world, as well as the funding that will be needed to stop deforestation.

Friends of the Earth and more than 20 allied groups completed a detailed analysis of the draft bill introduced in the Senate on September 30 by Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. 

Our shared analysis shows that the Kerry-Boxer bill improves upon the House bill in one critical area:  It protects the existing tools we have to reduce greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. In all the other criteria laid out above, however, the bill still needs to be improved. We are sharing this analysis with Senator Boxer to provide her and other senators with a blueprint for strengthening the bill.

How we can help

Senators need to hear from all of us that we demand a strong clean energy bill, not the lobbyist-corrupted, loophole-filled bill that passed the House. Click here to sign our petition and send them that message, and then ask your friends to sign too. Also, ask your friends to view our video, "Just an Energy Bill," an animated video telling the story of how polluter lobbyists hijacked the energy bill.

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