Climate Bill: Pass or Fail?

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The Waxman-Markey Climate Bill is making its way through Congress, and stirring up controversy within the environmental movement between those who support it as a necessary first step, and those who think it’s fatally flawed.  Sea Change Radio talks with both sides.  Joe Romm, editor of the ClimateProgress.org blog and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, favors passing the Bill.  Carroll Muffett of Greenpeace says the bill fails to address key issues in solving the climate crisis.

HR 2454: The American Clean Energy and Security Act. A draft of the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill, as it’s better known, was released by the Energy and Commerce Committee on March 31st. Greenpeace immediately greeted it as a “good first step, but improvements needed.” ClimateProgress blogger Joe Romm agreed, grading the bill a B+. By the time the Bill came out of Committee, however, it had undergone significant changes – changes that Greenpeace (and a broad coalition of environmental organizations) lambasted for “failing to impose necessary reductions” And Romm downgraded the Bill to a B-. Despite the Bill’s flaws, though, Romm supports it, and criticized Greenpeace for its attacks on the Bill.

Sea Change Radio spoke first with Joe Romm.  The conversation started with discussion of the problems in the Bill.  Despite these problems, Romm considers passage of the Bill essential for solving the climate crisis.  He sees US climate policy as a multi-stage process, with this Bill as a starting point.  As climate science gets stronger, future emissions reduction targets can be strengthened.  Romm also discusses the role of emissions allocations, defending the shift from a regime of 100 percent auction of allocations as promised by Barack Obama on the campaign trail to a percentage of free allocations.

Romm and other supporters of the Waxman Markey bill argue that the first order of business is to get the knobs in place that can then be ratcheted up in the future to tighten controls on greenhouse gas emisisons. They say, if we spend all of our time arguing over what the settings are, we’ll never get the knobs on the climate console.

Romm is no starry-eyed optimist, however.  Even if the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill becomes law, he predicts a mere 10 to 20 percent of averting disaster.  He says that “the human race does not have many examples of instances where the world collectively got together and transformed itself before something bad happened.”

To hear the complete interview with Romm, click here.

There’s no question that Joe Romm and Greenpeace are on the same side when it comes caring passionately about saving the climate. But they differ starkly on how well the Waxman-Markey Bill can get us to that goal.

To get Greenpeace’s take on the bill, Sea Change Radio interviewed its Deputy Campaign Director Carroll Muffett, who had just returned from a meeting at the United Nations. The conversation started by asking Muffett if he agrees with what Joe Romm says–that this bill is a start–and that if we don’t pass it the world can’t take us seriously.  Muffett says world leaders are already expressing doubts about US resolve as reflected in the Waxman-Markey Bill.

Carroll Muffett is also disturbed that the bill would strip the executive branch of the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act–a key power just affirmed last year by the Supreme Court after a long battle by environmentalists. This would take a critical tool out of the toolbox of tough regulation on climate change.

One of the elements of the Waxman-Markey Bill Greenpeace finds most troubling is its inclusion of carbon offsets. Joe Romm has long been an opponent of carbon offsets — he calls them rip-offsets, because he says they’re unregulated — and often fake. When you buy an offset for taking, say a plane trip across the Atlantic, you could be buying into green energy that would have been produced anyway. But he’s made his peace with the offsets in Waxman-Markey. Before hearing Muffett’s critique of offsets, Romm explains his take on them.

Muffett concludes by asserting the leadership needed to promote progress on climate policy, challenging President Obama to push Congress to improve the Climate Bill.  To hear the complete interview with Muffett, click here.