Climate Bill Draft Drops in the House

Authors: Ada McMahon Contributors: Jason Walsh Democrats in the House of Representatives released the first version of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, aka ACES. To say this is a big deal is an understatement. Congress is moving to enact bold policies to combat climate change and drive the transition to a clean energy economy, all in one bill. If and when ACES passes, it will be a roadmap for how our nation transforms our economy and goes green. It’s a good start. But we’ve got a lot of work to do to strengthen it. The bill (authored by Representatives Henry Waxman and Ed Markey) is a discussion draft – meaning this is only the beginning of what will undoubtedly be a long and exhausting legislative process. So – let us discuss. 1. Cutting carbon emissions The bill is strong on cutting green house gas emissions using science-based targets, requiring reductions of 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, 42 percent by 2030, and 83 percent by 2050. We need to stop baking the planet. Period. And these reductions will help get us there, especially if they’re strengthened in the legislative process that’s about to start. 2. Cap and Trade The legislation creates a cap-and-trade system for big polluters, but leaves key questions unanswered – like how many allowances polluters will get and how the proceeds from the system will be spent. Allowances are basically free carbon credits that would allow some players to pollute for free. We don’t think any polluter should get a free ride, as this undermines the whole system and leaves less money left over for the kinds of investments we want to see. Climate blogger David Sassoon sums it up like this: “A cap and trade system will in essence create a new carbon currency worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Some lawmakers want to hand most of it over to polluting industries; others want to return most of it to citizens to protect pocketbooks from rising energy prices, and to plow it into financing the clean energy future.” 3. Spending the Revenue The draft of the bill says little about how this revenue (which could be hundreds of billions of dollars) will be spent -- This will be a HUGE point of contention in the upcoming debate over this bill. The draft does acknowledge that measures need to be put in place to protect the pocketbooks of low-income families. We think that some of the polluters’ money should go back to low-income families in the form of rebates. We also think the revenue from a climate bill ought to be invested to build pathways out of poverty in the clean energy economy. We'll be supportive of measures that invest this money in disadvantaged communities and training programs for green-collar jobs. This will give those who have been locked out of the old, grey economy a leg-up in the transition to a new, green economy. At this point, the draft is weak on these provisions, but we expect that its authors will work closely with us to change that. 4. Renewable energy and energy efficiency. The bill is strong on standards and investments for renewable energy and energy efficiency. It dictates that 25% of the country’s energy must be renewable by 2025, directs utilities to reduce demand through energy efficiency measures, and includes a new program that invests in retrofitting America’s building stock. These are some of the strongest provisions in the bill, providing us with the chance to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs, while developing markets for renewable energy and energy efficiency that create millions of green-collar jobs. What’s missing, at this point, is the kind of integrated approach that we and our allies have proposed with the Clean Energy Corps, which supports the retrofitting of buildings on an unprecedented block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood scale, ensuring that the jobs created by this kind of investment are career-track and family sustaining, and linking the people who most need work to these jobs via service and training pathways. Finally, the bill leaves unanswered, for now, the important question of how to help communities and workers that are currently reliant on the fossil fuel economy make the transition into the clean energy economy and the new jobs and skills that it requires. But this is why it’s called a “discussion draft.” We’ve got time to work with the draft’s authors, and other committee members, to make it a stronger piece of legislation. One of the things House Democrats got right is the timeline they are pursuing on this bill. The time for urgent action on energy and the environment has been upon us for quite some time now, and we simply cannot wait any longer. The economy, the climate, and the world cannot wait. Neither can Congress – and our champions in the House know it. Markey and Waxman are pushing a fast and ambitious schedule to get this bill passed in their Energy and Commerce Committee by Memorial Day, then teeing it up for a vote by the full House in June or July. Looking ahead, it will be very important to pass a strong climate and energy bill in time for the international climate meeting in Copenhagen in December. To be effective leaders in the international community, we need strong national policies in place. Consider the process of a bill becoming a law (remember Schoolhouse Rock?). A lot is up in the air. This is gonna be dropped, added, and amended like crazy. We will be organizing to make sure that the energy and climate bills moving through Congress this summer have strong commitments to equity, opportunity, health, and the growth of a new economy that will be green for all.  

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