Gonzalez bombs climate change bill

Or: Why if circus trainers were politicians, they would have no faces to speak out of...

Greg Harman

[email protected]

“Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” the old saying goes. It does not, the precipitator of this maxim surely knew, count with global warming legislation.

U.S. Representative Charlie Gonzalez is trying to put the best face forward on his failure to fight for strict reductions of greenhouse gases on par with what the International Panel on Climate Change suggests are necessary to avert worst-case climatic chaos.

He desperately wants you to understand why his meddling changed a pretty good bill into a flop.

Today, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce finally released its global warming bill, the American Clean Energy & Security Act. While there will be much celebration for green jobs and solar power, allow me to give you an alternative reason to squirt yourself in the eye with a cold cerveza: ACESA Will Not Save Us.

The Waxman-Markey draft climate bill brought forward before Charlie and several conservative Democrats got after it already failed to meet IPCC standards for avoiding the worst of global warming. The bill called for reducing greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020. Though science shows the slide should have moved up the scale closer to 30 percent, the goal was reduced instead to 17 percent.

More dramatically, the proposed cap-and-trade language of the original bill required around 90 percent the carbon credits be purchased by industry in order for them to continue polluting greenhouse gases for a time. Proceeds for those sales could then be used to assist homeowners wth their higher utility bills and fund clean-energy research.

Gonzalez, along with friends like Houston's Gene Green, took exception. Consequently, the American Clean Energy Act now will give industry a full 85 percent of those credits, said Andy Wilson, global warming director for Public Citizen in Texas.

“They gave away a bunch of pollution credits,” Wilson said. “And that's going to hurt poor people."

He added that lawmakers should be moving "full-steam ahead" on clean energy, instead of pulling back.

“The only reason you would want to limit the renewable energy standard, limit the amount of energy efficiency, and increase the giveaways to polluters, is because you want more of the status quo,” Wilson said.

Remarkably, Gonzalez still seems to think that his giveaway to industry â?? in this case CPS Energy â?? has achieved if not something noble at least something to keep your bills down.

It's questionable. While CPS will no longer have to pay to continue polluting in the short term, the failure to auction pollution credits means there will be no money to send back to consumers in order to offset the rising power bills expected to follow the legislation nationwide.

And the requirements for increased renewable-energy use won't even challenge CPS to step it up.

As is, the bill's requirement for utilities to produce 15 percent of their energy load from renewable energy by 2020 is five percent below CPS's stated goal of 20 percent by 2020. And the passage today by San Antonio's City Council of a slight rate increase for efficiency, conservation, and renewable power rebates will grease the utility's way to attaining another bill requirement, that utilities reach 5 percent energy savings from efficiency measures.

But the glaring problem with the bill as passed out of committee today is that it simply doesn't address global warming on par wtih the 2007 directives of the International Panel on Climate Change â?? directives, it should be noted, that more recent science (read on...) is showing to be dangerously outdated.

In a prepared statement, Gonzalez said:

“Following weeks of negotiations the House Energy and Commerce Committee has reached consensus on job creating legislation to make clean energy a foundation for our economic recovery. The climate change challenges facing our country and our planet are serious and require immediate action. Today we voted to move our country to cleaner energy sources and towards energy independence from foreign sources of oil.

“We have taken the key steps to bringing landmark comprehensive clean energy legislation to the floor of the House, while aiming to contain costs for consumers and help industries transition to clean energy. In drafting this legislation we incorporated ideas from consumers and industries in all regions of the country, ensuring a more accurate representation of our available resources and energy needs. While initially concerned about the bill's lack of incentives towards utilities companies, negotiations resulted in language being added to the bill that would provide electric utilities sufficient allocations to cover emissions and keep cost low towards ratepayers, without compromising the legislation's primary goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“My first duty is to advance the economic well-being of my district. Our municipally-owned utility must be provided the flexibility it requires to meet the energy needs of our city and provide energy at low cost to consumers. As this bill goes to the full House, and eventually to the Senate, the debate will continue and some changes may be made. Throughout the entire legislative process, I will continue to be guided by one enduring principle: no one else represents the 20th Congressional District and every vote I cast is always guided by what best serves the interest of our community.”

Meanwhile, news of a report by MIT researchers just published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate is yet one more brick in the rising wall of scientific literature reporting that global conditions are already worsening at a pace far worse then the IPCC projected just two years ago.

Reuters reports:

Global warming's effects this century could be twice as extreme as estimated just six years ago, scientists reported on Tuesday.

Earth's median surface temperature could rise 9.3 degrees F (5.2 degrees C) by 2100, the scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found, compared to a 2003 study that projected a median temperature increase of 4.3 degrees F (2.4 degrees C).

The new study, published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate, said the difference in projection was due to improved economic modeling and newer economic data than in previous scenarios.

MIT's press writes (with a little more about how the report's findings were reached):

The most comprehensive modeling yet carried out on the likelihood of how much hotter the Earth's climate will get in this century shows that without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago - and could be even worse than that.

The study uses the MIT Integrated Global Systems Model, a detailed computer simulation of global economic activity and climate processes that has been developed and refined by the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change since the early 1990s. The new research involved 400 runs of the model with each run using slight variations in input parameters, selected so that each run has about an equal probability of being correct based on present observations and knowledge. Other research groups have estimated the probabilities of various outcomes, based on variations in the physical response of the climate system itself. But the MIT model is the only one that interactively includes detailed treatment of possible changes in human activities as well - such as the degree of economic growth, with its associated energy use, in different countries.

If anything, the pace that greenhouse gases need to be driven down should have been accelerated by the House committee, not bogged down with concessions to industry.

Only one thing to say to Mr. Gonzalez: Sir, even by your own standard, this vaulted “economic well-being” of your district that you call your “first duty”? Tell me, how can we achieve “well-being” of any sort if our own policies deliver us directly to the dark side of our dangerously warming future?

Gonzalez had a chance to craft a tough bill, knowing full well that whatever rolled out of committee was sure to be watered down later. Instead, he opted to tinker for CPS.

I don't pretend to know what happens at nine degrees of warming, but I'm not so sure it's survivable.


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