Senate conservatives this week blocked consideration of legislation to end global warming. Despite growing support for measures to slow global warming, which included 10 members who previously opposed action, Republicans employed parliamentary tactics to stall consideration of the bill. Ultimately, a procedural vote to continue debate on the Climate Security Act failed, 48-36, short of the necessary 60-vote threshold. Had six absent Senate supporters been in attendance, the bill would have fallen just shy of this margin.
Once again President Bush acted as big-oil lobbyist in chief to help block debate over global warming solutions. Despite his opposition, and millions of dollars of campaign cash from oil, coal, and other interests, this bill got the most support ever for a global warming bill. This occurred due to vigorous leadership from Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
The Climate Security Act, sponsored by Sens. Boxer, Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and John Warner (R-VA), was the most bipartisan, aggressive, and comprehensive global warming bill ever considered on the Senate floor. The bill would have:
- Significantly reduced greenhouse gases from power plants and other sources.
- Heavily invested in energy efficiency and renewable technologies.
- Created millions of new jobs in clean energy industries, which could lead to greater economic growth compared to business as usual.
- Reduced consumption of oil.
- Protected low-income households and electricity rate payers from significantly higher energy prices.
- Used 89 percent of all emissions allowances for public purposes over the lifetime of the bill.
- Ensured funding to help vulnerable communities in poor countries adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
The bill also had some problems that future versions must address.
Too many emissions allowances were given away to companies responsible for the global warming problem, instead of requiring them to buy them in an auction. Generous offset and cost containment provisions could make it difficult to meet the early reduction goals. It does not require new coal-fired power plants to capture and sequester 85 percent of their carbon dioxide pollution. Nuclear power would be eligible for subsidies as a low/zero carbon energy source despite the industry’s receipt of nearly $100 billion in federal tax dollars since 1948. And the mechanism to level the playing field between American goods and those from nations that did not reduce their emissions may have sparked a trade war without protecting our industries or getting other countries to reduce their emissions.
What next? Now that the Senate global warming debate appears over for the time being, the focus will shift to the following issues and venues:
- Building support for Rep. Ed Markey’s (D-MA) Investment in Climate Action and Protection bill, H.R. 6186, which would achieve steeper greenhouse gas reductions. It would also avoid many of the problems in S. 3036.
- Demonstrating the economic value of requiring polluters to purchase 100 percent of their greenhouse gas emission permits rather than being given them.
- Ensuring that auction revenue is used wisely to spur economic growth and innovation by investing in green technology and energy efficiency, creating clean energy jobs, assisting American households with rising energy prices, and adapting to the effects of global warming here and abroad.
- Building support for a new source emission performance standard for all new coal-fired power plants so that they capture and sequester their carbon pollution.
- Developing more effective bilateral and multilateral mechanisms to promote emission reductions from developed and developing countries, and to ensure that big U.S. emitters don’t relocate offshore to avoid greenhouse gas reductions.
This was the first Senate vote on global warming legislation in three years. The margin of support for action on a specific bill increased from 38 to 54 senators—nearly a 50 percent increase. Another benefit from this debate was that it built a foundation for a solution and focused media and senators’ attention on the urgency to act.
The debate and vote also revealed that there are many senators who are still unsure about supporting a solution to reduce the global warming threat and spark the transformation to a low -carbon, efficient, high-economic-growth economy. Of course, it is very difficult to pass complex legislation like the Climate Security Act in a single Congress. The essential missing ingredient for solving global warming is consistent presidential leadership, which should begin on Inauguration Day 2009. Our economy and planet can’t wait much longer.
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Daniel J. Weiss