The Beltway Bulletin

July 1, 2009

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By Phil Carver

Below is a good summary of legislation proposed in Congress this year.

In the House …

  • American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act of 2009: A comprehensive climate and energy bill sponsored by Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), this has more momentum than any other legislation on these issues. It passed in the Energy and Commerce Committee on May 21, and has won praise from President Obama. The bill would use a cap-and-trade program to cut planet-warming emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. It would also require as much as 20 percent of electricity to be produced from renewable sources, and would set tougher energy-efficiency standards. For more on ACES, check out this handy guide.
  • 21st Century Energy Technology Deployment Act of 2009: Introduced by Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), this bill would provide financing for renewable energy technologies. It would create a Clean Energy Deployment Administration to offer a broad range of direct and indirect financial support mechanisms for low-carbon and net-zero-carbon technologies. John Dingell (D-Mich.) introduced a version of this bill as an amendment to the Waxman-Markey bill, and it was approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee with wide bipartisan support.

In the Senate …

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Not a single climate bill has been formally introduced this year in the Senate, though several senators have said they are working on legislation. The real action so far has been on energy legislation, and the Energy and Natural Resources is at work on one big energy bill that packages a number of measures together. The committee has marked up many components, and expects to make a decision on the entire package in June. Here are the more important components of the package, some of which are still in draft form.

  • Federal Renewable Electricity Standard: This draft bill from Democrats on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee would require utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021. A little more than a quarter of that goal could be met with efficiency measures.
  • 21st Century Energy Technology and Deployment Act: Much like its companion bill in the House (see above), this bill would create a Clean Energy Deployment Administration within the Department of Energy to provide financial support for low-carbon and net-zero-carbon technologies.
  • Restoring America’s Manufacturing Leadership Through Energy Efficiency Act: This bill, from Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), would provide loans to help manufacturers start using more energy-efficient equipment and processes, and create government partnerships with industry to develop and deploy new efficient technologies.
  • Appliance Standards Improvement Act: Bingaman and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced this bill, which would update the Department of Energy’s appliance standards program and the federal Energy Star program.
  • Energy and Water Integration Act: Also from Bingaman and Murkowski, this bill calls for more study into the water use involved in transportation fuels and electricity generation.
  • Department of Energy Carbon Capture and Sequestration Program: Introduced by Bingaman and a bipartisan group of seven other senators, this legislation would provide long-term liability protection and funding for up to 10 large-scale carbon-capture-and-storage projects, with the Department of Energy determining which projects should receive funding.”

Find out more about climate change and what you can do about it in the Grist website’s Climate Citizens section.

Overview of Climate Legislation

Money for political campaigns comes from people who have money. Even if funds from wealthy individuals and corporations can be kept out of the official coffers of the candidates, independent advertising and corporate media will exert a strong influence. Unless the Constitution is amended, it is unlikely courts will allow Congress to regulate independent media campaigns. But wealthy people are affected by climate change, too. The East Coast of the U.S. may be one of the areas hardest hit by sea level rise.

The first successful bill to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions will not instantly transform American society. This is a fundamental, but necessary transformation. Huge emission reductions are needed to stabilize the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and the climate.

Still, we have to start somewhere. Any bill that passes in the next few years will have to be amended within a decade. All the technologies needed to achieve huge reductions are not commercially available today.

Also, other economic forces are at work. World oil production and North American natural gas production seem to have largely peaked. There may be occasional increases in production, as in U.S. natural gas production in 2008, but these will be temporary. Like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, we have to run faster and faster just to stay in one place.

Even U.S. coal production is subject to increased costs as low-cost deposits are developed first. England and Wales have largely exhausted their economically viable coal reserves. It takes diesel oil to economically mine and transport coal. As oil prices rise, the cost to mine coal rises. While all energy technologies face this net-energy challenge, technological change is reducing renewable energy costs faster than the costs for mining and using coal. Coal is a 19th century technology.

Even the prospect of carbon regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency or Congress is producing significant shifts. Most venture capital is focused on new renewable energy technologies. It is the new financial bubble.

Most orders for new coal plants have been canceled. It takes five years to build a coal plant. If a coal plant is not under construction today, it is likely that construction will be terminated soon, with substantial losses to investors.

Waxman-Markey or the final climate change bill will not be perfect. Environmental groups should both point out the weaknesses and support the legislation.

Climate Action in Oregon This Fall

The Oregon Interfaith Power and Light (http://www.emoregon.org/power_light.php) and the Social Action Team of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem have endorsed the “350 Climate Crisis Walk.” The action is one of many taking place in Oregon and around the world that are coordinated by 350.org. These actions are focused on Oct. 24 and the international climate negotiations in Denmark in December.

The “bathtubs” of CO2 in the air and the ocean are getting too full. To halt the rise in the CO2 concentration, we must cut worldwide emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and by 80 to 90 percent by 2050. The level of 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 is known to be safe. Any level above that is not. We passed 350 in 1988. We are at 388 today and rising about 2 ppm per year.

There is a growing risk of releasing the carbon in the tundra soils of the Arctic http://downloads.climatescience.gov/sap/sap3-4/sap3-4-final-report-ch5.pdf . Some of that carbon will be released as methane (CH4) which has 25 times the global warming power of a molecule of CO2.

We need to prepare for sea level rise and stronger storms. The impacts on developing countries will be far more challenging than for coastal Oregon. For an assessment of the issues facing coastal Oregon see http://egov.oregon.gov/ENERGY/GBLWRM/GWC/docs/climate_ready_communities.pdf .

A sea level rise of one meter is likely the minimum we will see this century. A one meter sea level rise will permanently displace 15 million people in Bangladesh, 17 million in Vietnam and 72 million in China. These values have not been adjusted for population growth this century. Several island nations will disappear. (See http://www.clima-net.com/docs/elibrary/articles/sealevel.pdf).

We have a choice in how we respond to this crisis. If you are concerned about global warming and want to do something about it, please participate in this fall’s 350 Climate Crisis Walk. The climate crisis is a moral crisis.

Up to 35 people will walk for 35 days along a 350-mile route from Coos Bay to Portland. Our goal and that of the national 350.org organization is “to inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis — to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet.” 350.org. was founded a year ago by Bill McKibben, author of End of Nature and Fight Global Warming Now (http://www.350.org/).

The issue of climate change seems to have reached a scientific and political tipping point. Momentum is building worldwide. Locally, Portland, OR has successfully capped its CO2 emissions. Several states and Canadian provinces are implementing caps. The U.S. Congress and EPA are considering caps. With a key U.N. Climate Change Conference in Denmark in December, October is a good time to raise awareness about the climate crisis.

We will begin walking on Sept. 20 from Sunset Bay State Park and end with a rally in Portland on Oct. 24. There are 21 cities with populations over 1,000 along the route. Walkers and organizers will talk with coastal and Columbia River communities about sea level rise and climate change. Even if you can’t walk ten miles per day or take off for 35 days, there are many other roles for this action.

If you are interested in helping, please contact me.philip.carver@comcast.net – 503.562.9878.

More Information

For up-to date reports on many progressive issues, see the Center for American Progress at www.americanprogressaction.org/ and the Gristmill at http://www.grist.org/news/.

For justice issues, see the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at www.aclu.org/.

For the issues of peace, national defense and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, see the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) at www.fcnl.org/.

For the issues of energy and global warming, see the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) at http://www.ucsusa.org/ and the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) at www.nrdc.org. Φ

On July 1, 2009 Phil Carver retired for the second time. He had worked on energy and climate change issues for Oregon’s state government since 1980. He is a former OPW Board Chair who writes this column exclusively for each issue of The PeaceWorker.

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One Response to “ The Beltway Bulletin ”

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