Beltway Bulletin

September 1, 2009

Carver_Phil_beltwaybulletinBy Phil Carver

Climate Bill Passes the House

On June 26, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2454 by a vote of 219-to-212. It is the first comprehensive climate bill to pass in either chamber. The Senate has not yet passed a bill out of committee.

The bill, titled the “American Clean Energy and Security Act,” would reduce U.S. global warming pollution 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Measures to protect foreign tropical forests would reduce net U.S. emissions by an additional 10 percent by 2020. While the 2020 reductions are less than the level needed, there are many good elements to the bill. See more on UCS recommendations for emissions reductions.

The bill requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the latest global warming science and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review technological advancements and then make recommendations to the Obama administration. The NAS would also be charged with conducting a scientific review if the EPA doesn’t do it first. The EPA and other agencies would have to adjust regulations and, if the latest science indicates that we must accelerate or deepen reductions, propose legislative changes.

H.R. 2454 authorizes the Secretary of Education to award grants to universities and colleges to develop programs of study that prepare students for careers in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other industries that help fight global warming.

The bill has complementary policies that are needed to keep costs low for capped sectors and to achieve comparable reductions in uncapped sectors. These include a renewable energy and energy efficiency standard. The bill includes policies to increase the efficiency of buildings, lighting and appliances; measures for greater efficiency in industry; investments in electric vehicles and batteries and improved building codes and appliance standards. While these policies are a good start, they will need to be strengthened over time.

The bill directs 5 percent of the allowances to tropical forest protection, one of the lowest cost ways to reduce emissions. Worldwide, tropical deforestation and degradation currently contributes to 20 percent of global warming pollution — as much as every car, truck and plane in the world. This financing will reduce emissions from tropical deforestation by an amount equal to 10 percent of the United States’ emissions, adding substantially to our contribution to fighting global warming and helping to save the millions of species of animals and plants that have their homes in tropical forests. See UCS Analysis.

Global Warming Likely Worse than Forecast

A study reported in Nature Geoscience http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v2/n8/abs/ngeo578.html indicates the amount of carbon released during an abrupt warming event 55.5 million years ago, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM, was insufficient to cause the 5 to 9°C temperature rise that occurred at the time. The study suggests that the greenhouse effect of the atmospheric carbon dioxide must have been amplified substantially by processes that, at present, are not well understood.

Richard Zeebe and colleagues used analyses of marine sediments and a carbon-cycle model to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide released during the PETM, which lasted about 100,000 years. They found that, using current estimates of climate sensitivity to increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the carbon release could only explain up to 3.5°C of the warming. They concluded that as yet unknown warming feedbacks must have caused the additional rise in temperature. Predictions of increased global temperatures from the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change do not include these feedbacks, including potential releases of methane from arctic soils.

David Beerling of Nature notes: “The upshot of the study by Zeebe and colleagues is that forecasts of future warming could be severely underestimating the extent of the problem that lies in store for humanity as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere.”

Health Care Legislation

The House version of health care legislation cleared the final committee hurdle July 31 as the Energy and Commerce Committee voted in favor of the bill, 31-to-28. The Senate Finance Committee is the only committee in either chamber that has not completed a markup. Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has set a deadline of September 15 to get a bill before the full finance committee. Finance Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said on Aug. 3 that he believes a health care bill could arrive on the president”s desk by mid-November.

In the House bill, the federal government would offer a competing insurance plan, the so-called “public option.” This is one of the most important provisions. Only this can provide the competition necessary to lower health care costs. The House bill has many other measures to reduce health care costs.

The bill also provides new protections for the insured. The New York Times reports the bill would require all new policies to offer yet-to-be-determined “essential benefits.” It would prohibit policies from excluding or charging higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions. It would also prohibit insurers from setting annual or lifetime limits on what a policy would pay.

A growing number of Americans is uninsured — about 46 million currently. Many more are underinsured. Health care emergencies are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy. This destabilizes the economy because lenders fear they will not be repaid.

The current system uses hospital emergency rooms as the backstop for the uninsured. This promotes high-cost hospitalization rather than low-cost prevention and early care. These high costs are paid by the insured, including those already covered by a government plan.

If health care costs are not contained, the Medicare program for the elderly and the Medicaid program for the poor will lead to crushing federal deficits. When foreign investors believe the federal government will print money to pay off the growing federal debt, the dollar will crash. That will cause an economic depression.

More Information

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

For justice issues, see the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at www.aclu.org/. For issues of peace, national defense and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, see the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) at www.fcnl.org/.

For 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.

Phil Carver worked on energy and climate change issues for Oregon’s state government from 1980 until this year. He is a former OPW Board Co-Chair who writes this column exclusively for each issue of The PeaceWorker. He and Carol Reece, a current board member, are organizing a 350 mile walk to focus attention on sea level rise. For more on the walk, see the PeaceWorking Blog at http://oregonpeaceworks.org/wordpress/.

One Response to “ Beltway Bulletin ”

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