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“Sources say”: … Are there “greens” seeking to stop strengthening climate bill?

June 24th, 2009 · 2 Comments

At times one needs to make decisions about how to rate confidences and how to maintain relationships. While not a “journalist”, this blogger can develop relationships that are built up in a variety of reasons and a variety of pathways. Many conversations are ‘off the record’, are part of discussions that don’t necessarily lend themselves to throwing out into public for any number of reasons. Yet, as with journalists, sometimes these “background” or “don’t quote me” or “can’t give you that email but trust me” conversations have significant import and there is reason to put something out on the table, to have an open conversation.

There is a real debate among those concerned about climate change about the best path forward in terms of the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act.

Friends of the Earth, among others, sees the bill as so weakened as to have become counter-productive. FOE has called for Representatives to vote against the bill unless it is (significantly) strengthened. With each passing day and with each weakening of this bill, their case seems ever more valid.

Many, especially many within the environmental community, are calling for the bill to be strengthened. Many (most) of these are coming in with a message along the lines of “vote for passing ACES, Friday, and, oh by the way, pretty please (with sugar on top), try to strengthen the bill in the interim and try not to have it weakened further”. Most of these organizations have not given any indication of whether there is some form of red line of weakening and undermining beyond which they can no longer support Waxman-Markey.

With the President’s statement yesterday supporting ACES and Al Gore’s telecon last night, these two quite prominent climate activists seem to fall into the “vote for it even though it falls far short of what we’ve called for in the past” camps. Obama, after all, called for 100% auction of carbon permits while ACES gives away 85% initially (and most for a decade +). Gore called for an end to coal, while ACES gives it renewed life, and called for 100% clean electricity with a decade while ACES has a poorly structure renewable energy & energy efficiency standard of 17 percent by 2020. Thus, they are supporting a bill that is weaker than what they have called for.

This is true, in essence, for every single one of the environmental organizations ‘involved’ in the Washington game. It is hard to seen any serious “environmentalist” who sees ACES as the bill that they would like to see. The question becomes,. at some point, how weakened it can become and still merit support.

An interesting twist in the final days before House voting on the bill. Going back to the opening of this post and ‘background’ discussions / sources: A good number of people have told me in the past few days that major environmental organization is actively working against strengthening amendments to the bill, stating that those groups are fearful that any actual strengthening will keep the bill from being passed.. Sigh, when asked to go on the record, everyone has said no … But, different people, different offices, separate conversations saying very similar and reinforcing things.

How to handle this?

Sigh … Well, I reached out and asked a number of organizations for statements on the record.

Three environmental groups were mentioned by name.

Environment Defense Fund was mentioned in an offhand, “I think they’re involved”, type commentary. When queried about this, EDF’s Tony Kreindler directly said “baloney”. He quoted from a letter that EDF sent Speaker Pelosi this Monday: “We urge all House members to vote “yes” on H.R 2454 and to support amendments that strengthen the legislation.” That letter is, in fact, a very strong endorsement of ACES as a “crucial step” and “the most significant peice of environmental and energy legislation or our generation.” While this letter doesn’t provide much strength to the “strengthen it” effort, there is an on-the-record rejection of any EDF involvement in fighting strengthening amendments.

Also mentioned, in an aside-sort of way, was the League of Conservation Voters. As of yet, six hours later, no response from LCV. Does silence thus imply that LCV, which announced yesterday that they will not endorse any member who does not vote for ACES, is fighting against strengthening amendments?

Several people directly mentioned NRDC staff as discussing whether it would be best to vote against strengthening amendments for fear that those amendments would reduce the chance of the bill passage. When directly asked about this, NRDC spokesman Michael Oko sent the following:

NRDC is fully behind the ACES bill. Our policy experts and staff have been working on it for months to ensure that the bill is strong and that it is passed.

This is a historic week in Congress. We believe it is vital that this bill is passed through the House, so that it can be taken up by the Senate and delivered to the President’s desk. America needs strong climate and energy legislation this year.

As the bill moves ahead, we will continue to look for opportunities to make it stronger and to protect it from opponents who would try to weaken it. As you’re aware, it has been a hard fought process to get this far — which has taken tremendous leadership by Speaker Pelosi, Mr Waxman, Mr Markey and many others to get it to the House floor.

As we approach this historic marker, NRDC is extremely proud of the efforts we, the broader environmental community, and many others have made. As evidence, you can see the letter we signed — along with 28 other groups — supporting strengthening and passage of ACES.

As per this and the referenced letter, NRDC is on the record supporting strengthening of ACES … and its passage.

Now, at the end of the day, am I receiving a confused message. Are there environmental groups actively lobbying against strengthening amendments? Are there staff doing so independently? Are there, perhaps, people having ‘conversations’ about whether specific strengthening amendments will lower the chances of the bill’s passage? Or, is the world simply a confusing place and this just a confusing blog post? Or, is it all of the above and even more.

At the end of the day, looking likely that we will see a full House vote on ACES in the near future, there is a simple reality: ACES is far from the ace in the hole to provide us a winning hand against Global Warming. Wherever we should lay the blame (primarily, of course, on fossil foolish interests, their disinformation and deception campaigns, and their Congressional allies), this bill opened as less than what was required and has been weakened significantly through the House legislative process.

It seems clear that “enviro” calls that ‘you should support the bill but please, we’re asking nicely, would you strengthen it’ are not effective in promoting the sort of legislation that is necessary. And, it is clear that too many are ready to support this no matter how watered down it might get. What is unclear is whether, in their strong desire to have climate legislation, “green” lobbyists are prepared to fight and are actively fighting against efforts to strengthen the legislation.

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What next?

Learning to play hardball is a long process, from t-ball through a lot of hard practices to, for just a rare few, that stepping up to the plate in the major leagues. It is uncertain that those fighting for real action to fight climate change know how to play hardball with minor and poorly funded players like Exxon-Mobil, the US Chamber of Commerce, Peabody Energy, etc … Literally $trillions (along with that minor, pesky issue of living conditions for all humanity and, well, most other species) are at stake here and those fighting meaningful action understand those stakes. It is uncertain that, as a totality, those fighting for change to something better have shown themselves ready to be in the big leagues with these fossil fools. Sadly, we don’t have the time to say ‘go back to AA ball and get some more experience.

Now, some of the best discussion of alternative political paths re climate legislation is, at this time, from Chris Bowers at Open Left. See, for example, Collin Peterson Gets His Way, But Is Now A Great Environmentalist discussing the implications of LCV’s threat to not endorse any Representative who does not vote for Waxman-Markey — no matter the reason for their vote.

As we question and think about lessons for the future, we should recognize that we live in the present. It might be that Waxman-Markey merits passage, as is, and that the best prospects for passage are to prevent strengthening amendments. It might be …

Or, perhaps we should be fighting for meaningful improvements to the legislation that foster a better chance for avoiding catastrophic climate change and for seizing the economic opportunities from a confident move into a clean energy future.

Many groups are fighting for three key amendments.

1. Increase the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) to 30% by 2020.

2. Protect the Clean Air Act and keep the EPA’s ability to regulate CO2 emissions. (See this CREDO action item: Remove the Trojan Horse from Global Warming Legislation.)

3. Reduce emissions allocations to polluters and shift the resources to green jobs and renewable energy.

Representatives Ellison and Penigree (and 48 House colleagues) have submitted a letter calling for these three changes (pdf). While not necessarily my priorities and certainly not solving all of the challenging (and confusing) issues of ACES, these are important steps. And steps for which, at a minimum, it would be useful to get on-the-record votes. Thus, take the time to contact your Representative to urge them to fight weakening amendments and to vote for strengthening amendments (especially the three above).

Tags: cap and trade · waxman-markey

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