Climate, coal, farms

Greg Harman
[email protected]

So now that we've wrapped up beating down San Antonio's highest paid Austin resident*, CPS CEO Milton Lee (read “Lee's Electric Company) , it's time to lift our head from the coal muck and scan the horizon once more.

Beneath the back-and-forth reporting on what China/India/developing economies are/aren't willing to do re: mandatory emissions caps, the international community is actually taking steps now to convert to low-carbon alternatives. Even as France's ambition to sell nukes across the Middle East is gumming up the works with the recently formed International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), our own Senate is working now to nuke the climate bill.

I think there isn't a Capitol watcher on the planet that would dispute the fact that the American Clean Energy Act has been considerably retooled since Representatives Waxman and Markey first rolled their proposal out to the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

Thanks in part to our Representative Henry Gonzalez, the bill's cap-and-trade provision went from 100-percent auction (to create a fund to fuel more clean-energy development) to a mostly giveaway system to protect coal plants from paying for their pollution. (Though the Gonz is still head-and-shoulders above fellow Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who pledged to support the bill, voted against it, and pitifully ran away!)

The amount of misinformation about the bill from “flat-earthers,” as Rep Doggett called the oil and gas lobby posing as representatives of the public interest, pushed even critics like Doggett, who decried the amount of giveaways to industry, to vote it up.

And although some House members were clamoring that ACES was a piggy bank-wreaking behemoth, the EPA broke the bill open last month and found that, through increased efficiency investments, it will actually reduce most electric bills.

The delirium du jour has had some farming groups fretting over the imagined future regulation of methane-burping cows and other nonsense.

In response, USDA eyeballed the proposal and reached the conclusion this week that the bill is good for agriculture, too.

As Reuters reported yesterday:

U.S. farmers and foresters could earn significantly more money from carbon contracts than they see in higher costs from legislation to control greenhouse gases, the Agriculture Department estimated on Wednesday.

It was one of the first full-spectrum analyses of the climate bill. Skeptics say the climate legislation will drive up sharply the cost of fuel, fertilizer and pesticides for the farm sector and make rural life more expensive.

"Our analysis demonstrates that the economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers can potentially outpace -- perhaps significantly -- the costs from climate legislation," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement prepared for a Senate hearing.

We know something about crop losses in South Texas. And while we can't link any weather event directly to global warming (climate scientists are not weather forecasters. They spot trends, not dust devils.) best projections suggest a need for rapid and serious action to prepare for a more waterless world.

The USDA doesn't consider the cost of inaction. But in Texas this year's crop losses are at $3.6 billion, and growing.

What the Senate needs to focus on now is making sure the Clean Energy Bank â?? a board that will ultimately be responsible for shoveling out money to “clean” energy projects â?? has well defined direction. Federal funding should go to the most viable technologies that also boast carbon-free footprints.

The House version of the bank, last I looked, required the board to move money to those techs that would make an impact on carbon emissions the fastest. That would mean solar and wind and biogas, existing green technologies would benefit.

* A cursory title search revealed two properties up in Travis County and nada in Bexar County. We're not ready to say "Lee doesn't live here," but it appears Lee doesn't live here.


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