Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, and Senator John Kerry, Democrat from Massachusetts, have joined forces in what might be one of the most important single opinion pieces published in a newspaper so far in 2009. Published in The New York Times, Yes, We Can (Pass Climate Legislation), provides an indication of a ‘bipartisan’ path toward significant climate legislation. In short,
Unlike (too) many Republicans, Lindsey Graham explicitly acknowledges climate change risks and the need for serious action. Graham, as perhaps the first crack in the Party, could lead other Republicans (including, for example, John McCain) to the floor to vote for legislation if, as “Yes We Can” suggests, additional resources are committed for nuclear power and clean coal combined with an opening of more areas for offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.
Graham will be attacked by Republican leading lights like Glenn Beck. The “deal” will be attacked by many who understand climate change’s risks, the dangerous fantasy and deception of “clean coal“, and the risks of digging our hole deeper with oil dependency in the face of Peak Oil, not mentioning those adamantly opposed to nuclear power (existing or additional).
Considering this, there are some fundamental questions to consider: Is this a situation where ‘being attacked from all sides’ suggests that the proper middle ground has been found? After all, there is no reality-based middle ground from anti-science syndrome sufferings like James Inhofe and those who actually understand the scientific process. Thus, being in the middle between global warming deniers and scientists isn’t a reality-based common ground. Thus, the attacks to come prove nothing beyond politics.
Thus, is this a compromising of what is necessary for what seems politically convenient? To a certain extent, “Yes We Can” leaves many doors open on this, with the devil in the details. Will Graham’s vote and support be ‘bought’ with $100s of billions of guaranteed funding for nuclear power, no matter whether it could be truly competitive in the face of other energy technology developments in the coming years? Is the “clean coal” element (simply) guaranteeing resources for research or is there going to be an iron-glad commitment of resources to coal even when there are clearly economically sensible paths to wean the US off coal electricity over the next twenty years (and the globe perhaps in 30)? And, so on. Thus, the impact truly will be understood within the devilish details.
One of the core questions to ask of any “compromising” within climate legislation is as follows:
Does it handicap future efforts to adapt to deeper scientific and economic understanding? (whether, to be ecumenical, to strengthen efforts to cut CO2 if the situation is as bad (or worse than) the scientific community is warning or to loosen targets if the situation is not as bad as currently thought)
That is a key question to consider when looking to Graham-Kerry compromising on climate legislation details.
Join me after the fold for examination of the OPED.
October 11, 2009
Yes, We Can (Pass Climate Legislation)
By JOHN KERRY and LINDSEY GRAHAM
CONVENTIONAL wisdom suggests that the prospect of Congress passing a comprehensive climate change bill soon is rapidly approaching zero. The divisions in our country on how to deal with climate change are deep. Many Democrats insist on tough new standards for curtailing the carbon emissions that cause global warming. Many Republicans remain concerned about the cost to Americans relative to the environmental benefit and are adamant about breaking our addiction to foreign sources of oil.
Yes, there are deep divides. Perhaps an OPED isn’t the place, but it would be nice to see a leading Republican openly and strongly denounce the systematic and well-funded efforts to perpetuate disinformation about the science related to the scientific Theory of Global Warming.
And, well, “many Republicans remain concerned about the cost” due, in no small part, to those systematic disinformation efforts through, in part, dissemination of ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’ about the economics of action to mitigate climate change. Is Graham ready to denounce disinformation efforts from, for example, groups like the Senate Republican Policy Committee?
However, we refuse to accept the argument that the United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate change. We are also convinced that we have found both a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future that will revitalize our economy, protect current jobs and create new ones, safeguard our national security and reduce pollution.
Our partnership represents a fresh attempt to find consensus that adheres to our core principles and leads to both a climate change solution and energy independence. It begins now, not months from now — with a road to 60 votes in the Senate.
There are win-win-win paths.
Let us hope that we don’t have too many “lose” items put into the mix to win votes.
It’s true that we come from different parts of the country and represent different constituencies and that we supported different presidential candidates in 2008. We even have different accents. But we speak with one voice in saying that the best way to make America stronger is to work together to address an urgent crisis facing the world.
Fundamentally, most Americans want to see ‘bipartisanship’ where that means people actually sitting down to discuss fundamental differences with a willingness to work to contribute to solving problems. This OPED suggests that, on the critical issue of climate change, Lindsey Graham has moved beyond the visceral partisan “NO to science” that is governing too many in the Republican Party. That, alone, could merit this OPED being the most important OPED published so far in 2009.
This process requires honest give-and-take and genuine bipartisanship. In that spirit, we have come together to put forward proposals that address legitimate concerns among Democrats and Republicans and the other constituencies with stakes in this legislation. We’re looking for a new beginning, informed by the work of our colleagues and legislation that is already before Congress.
The $64 question is italicized: what is “legitimate”?
First, we agree that climate change is real and threatens our economy and national security. That is why we are advocating aggressive reductions in our emissions of the carbon gases that cause climate change. We will minimize the impact on major emitters through a market-based system that will provide both flexibility and time for big polluters to come into compliance without hindering global competitiveness or driving more jobs overseas.
Seeking paths to reduce/control “carbon leakage” makes sense, especially if done via agreement among the largest economies in the world.
As I understand it, the World Trade Organization would authorize border adjustments in the face of a tax or fixed fee, but ‘auction prices’ are not authorized for border adjustment. As a starting point, perhaps 100% of carbon should be charged, at a minimum, the lower end of the Kerry-Boxer proposed “cost collar” which would enable, from day one, the US charging that rate on imports as a path to reduce the potential for carbon leakage.
Second, while we invest in renewable energy sources like wind and solar, we must also take advantage of nuclear power, our single largest contributor of emissions-free power. Nuclear power needs to be a core component of electricity generation if we are to meet our emission reduction targets. We need to jettison cumbersome regulations that have stalled the construction of nuclear plants in favor of a streamlined permit system that maintains vigorous safeguards while allowing utilities to secure financing for more plants. We must also do more to encourage serious investment in research and development to find solutions to our nuclear waste problem.
First, “needs to be a core” is uncertain. Putting aside proliferation, safety concerns, and waste issues (putting aside as not to discuss here), there is a fundamental question as to whether new nuclear power plants can compete on a cost basis with other new power options. To say the least, the open financial analysis doesn’t make the prospects rosy but, of course, developments could shift that: including new financing options that lower the long-term capital cost (e.g., reduce interest rate costs).
Second, a key item not addressed here are the basic capacity issues — from having enough trained people in the nuclear regulatory process to the shortfalls in industrial capabilities in nuclear power industry worldwide.
Third, climate change legislation is an opportunity to get serious about breaking our dependence on foreign oil. For too long, we have ignored potential energy sources off our coasts and underground. Even as we increase renewable electricity generation, we must recognize that for the foreseeable future we will continue to burn fossil fuels. To meet our environmental goals, we must do this as cleanly as possible. The United States should aim to become the Saudi Arabia of clean coal. For this reason, we need to provide new financial incentives for companies that develop carbon capture and sequestration technology.
Sigh, “Saudi Arabia of clean coal” … this is perhaps the most delusional set of sentences and comments in the OPED even if seen as politically necessary. This ignores the very real questions about the real extent of America’s coal reserves and the very questionable economics and performance pitfalls of “clean coal“. However, this is a commitment to incentives for developing technology … perhaps someone will develop something worth deploying. Perhaps …
In addition, we are committed to seeking compromise on additional onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration — work that was started by a bipartisan group in the Senate last Congress. Any exploration must be conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner and protect the rights and interests of our coastal states.
Oil prices are going to go up … and potentially surge to very high levels. It is worth recognizing that future political pressure will be extreme to open up areas for exploration and exploitation. Creating a process, today, in a calmer environment for doing so could result in a better structure than if done by a Congress facing a public screaming over a sudden multi-dollar spike in gasoline prices.
We must recognize, and make clear, that this additional drilling is no solution: putting aside climate change, the US simply doesn’t have enough resources in traditional oil to cover requirements (and, well, let’s put aside from the discussion the atrocities of “oil sands” and “shale oil”).
Fourth, we cannot sacrifice another job to competitors overseas. China and India are among the many countries investing heavily in clean-energy technologies that will produce millions of jobs. There is no reason we should surrender our marketplace to countries that do not accept environmental standards. For this reason, we should consider a border tax on items produced in countries that avoid these standards. This is consistent with our obligations under the World Trade Organization and creates strong incentives for other countries to adopt tough environmental protections.
As noted above, this basically makes sense but any legislation must be crafted with WTO rules in mind. (FYI, Global Warming Impact Fee provides some of my thinking on this issue from years ago.)
And, note the balancing of border protection with the clear (and true) statement that others are moving forward — even China and India, who are so often pointed to as ‘laggards’ but who are actually surging ahead of the United States when it comes to renewable energy and renewable energy commitments.
Finally, we will develop a mechanism to protect businesses — and ultimately consumers — from increases in energy prices. The central element is the establishment of a floor and a ceiling for the cost of emission allowances. This will also safeguard important industries while they make the investments necessary to join the clean-energy era. We recognize there will be short-term transition costs associated with any climate change legislation, costs that can be eased. But we also believe strongly that the long-term gain will be enormous.
Well, let us be clear, at this time the biggest threat of “increases in energy prices” have nothing to do with any climate legislation. Okay, some form of protection from sudden and extreme energy price swings due to climate legislation, but the 2008 spike in oil prices globally wasn’t driven by climate change legislation, nor the far above inflation rate increases in electricity prices, nor natural gas price swings (and spikes). Thus, it is risky to promise protection from “increases in energy prices” as opposed to, perhaps, protection from sudden price impacts from climate legislation since future price increases due to non-climate legislation reasons will be blamed on climate action … language like this sets the stage for those attacks.
Even climate change skeptics should recognize that reducing our dependence on foreign oil and increasing our energy efficiency strengthens our national security. Both of us served in the military. We know that sending nearly $800 million a day to sometimes-hostile oil-producing countries threatens our security. In the same way, many scientists warn that failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lead to global instability and poverty that could put our nation at risk.
This is called the ‘no regrets’ space. Even if denying Global Warming, people should understand the problems caused by sending $trillions overseas for imported oil and the health care costs of fossil fuel pollution. One doesn’t need to care about climate change to see the positive value of action.
Failure to act comes with another cost. If Congress does not pass legislation dealing with climate change, the administration will use the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new regulations. Imposed regulations are likely to be tougher and they certainly will not include the job protections and investment incentives we are proposing.
Watch out for those powerful bureaucrats!
The message to those who have stalled for years is clear: killing a Senate bill is not success; indeed, given the threat of agency regulation, those who have been content to make the legislative process grind to a halt would later come running to Congress in a panic to secure the kinds of incentives and investments we can pass today. Industry needs the certainty that comes with Congressional action.
While the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are spreading disinformation about costs, this is counter the interests of the majority of their membership. Industry wants certainty for investment / planning decisions and most industry leaders see the value (and necessity) of action.
We are confident that a legitimate bipartisan effort can put America back in the lead again and can empower our negotiators to sit down at the table in Copenhagen in December and insist that the rest of the world join us in producing a new international agreement on global warming. That way, we will pass on to future generations a strong economy, a clean environment and an energy-independent nation.
Let us hope that that “legitimate bipartisan effort” emerges and is reality-based. If it does, again, this might well go down as the most important OPED to appear in an American newspaper in 2009 … and perhaps even longer.
John Kerry is a Democratic senator from Massachusetts. Lindsey Graham is a Republican senator from South Carolina.
For other commentary, see:
- Joe Romm, Climate Progress, Breakthrough Senate Partnership
- Climate: Graham Joins Kerry DL Miller, Daily Kos GreenRoots
- Steven Benen, Political Animal: Bipartisan Cap & Trade