Rolling out the carbon-cutting guillotine

Greg Harman

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Over the weekend a new audience got a little better acquainted with Mayor Hardberger's rush to lay down new tracks in his final months in office â?? tracks that ideally would steer San Antonio on course to become an international leader in pollution-free energy development, if all goes well.

Even if much of Hardberger's plans are lost in transition as he steps aside for Julian Castro this May, a three-day date with sustainability advisor Jeremy Rifkin in April should flower loving repercussions and some unexpected paradigm shifting.

“A whole league of investors follow him around like little dogs waiting to see where he's going to squat,” a San Antonio green-energy advocate tells me of Rifkin.

Beloved San Antonio, Rifkin is prepared to squat on you.

Yet questions bubbling up for Hardy's second, Larry Zinn, at the Saturday evening gathering in Esperanza's upper chambers, were held to allow for the battering and frying of a bigger fish. In this case, the topic was the consistently delayed and/or scuttled federal efforts to put a pricetag on climate change. The target was U.S. Congressman Charlie Gonzalez.

Sadly, with two-thirds of the Current news staff playing rock star & groupie in San Fran, and the third third crawling armadillo tracks in the (San Antonio) Bay area, we've been forced to canvass attendees and organizers to gauge the performance of the aforementioned Charlie Gonzalez (left, in world's most unflattering photo). Unfortunately, what many had been hoping to uncover, Charlie's position on renewed efforts to implement cap-and-trade carbon legislation, remain murky.

While Gonzalez is said to have waxed casually about the ongoing political battle taking place over carbon and shown off his knowledge of green matters, that longed-for transparency didn't occur.

Calls to his media handler got us a dressed-up quote, (Ah, were we a power-brokering media conglomerate daily, downturns an' all. *sigh*) to the effect that:

“A market-based approach to limiting emissions has the potential to revitalize several large segments of our economy and improve our environment at the same time. When industry sees the incentives and revenue-potential of controlling pollution, the private sector will come alive with innovative solutions and we will see a surge in new, green-collar jobs. That's American ingenuity at its finest, and I will continue to support such entrepreneurship.”

Gonzalez already as a few strikes against him here. He was a no vote last time the current Chair of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, Congress member Henry Waxman, was stalking supporters back in the darkest days of Bush Era.

Of course, things have changed since then.

Alyssa Burgin, local rep to the Austin-based Texas Climate Emergency Campaign, was supportive of Gonzalez while noting his lack of commitment, saying, “He's been very generous in letting us know what he believes the opposition to carbon emissions cuts will look like, but he's not allied himself with that opposition â?¦ He has spoken well about green technology and the future of Texas, but at the same time he hasn't assured us of his vote.”

Event organizer Luke Metzger, head of Environment Texas, said that while Gonzalez “stated his support for more action on clean energy” several times at the gathering, her organization was “disappointed `he` failed to take the opportunity to clearly declare his support for a strong, science-based cap on global warming pollution.”

That “market-based approach” Gonzalez seems to favor appears to have support in a network of environmental law professors that have begun to advocate for it in Washington.

The effort to draw upon the success of Acid Rain cap-and-trade legislation from the Reagan era â?? along with the belief that no “significant” environmental successes can be claimed in Washington since â?? is what propels the members of Breaking the Logjam, a partnership grown from the conversations of professors at New York University School of Law and New York Law School.

“The pollution control statutes that we enacted in the 1970s required the government to tell businesses exactly how to control their pollution. So regulators in Washington were writing commands to hundreds of thousands of sources around the country,” said Richard B. Stewart, professor at New York University School of Law and Breaking the Logjam cofounder.

“Now that actually worked pretty well at the beginning. Action was neededâ?¦ there were some pretty clear things, some simple things â?¦ We're in a very different situation today. We're getting down to the last little bit and that's much harder to do.”

Stewart is right in line with what I am forced to assume is Gonzalez's position on this point. If we put a price on pollution and enforce it, businesses will figure out “the cheapest and more innovative ways to get the further reductions that we need.”

Of course, the market solution of cap-and-trade has been with us for a while. And Gonzalez wasn't there.

Worse, when it comes to CO2, the reductions needed are far beyond what anyone is even proposing. It is this logjam writ large that erupted in civil disobedience in Washington, D.C., today, where hundreds to thousands rallied to dethrone coal and save the planet (right).

From a Capitol Climate Action press release:

WASHINGTONâ?? A national coalition of more than 40 environmental, public health, labor, social justice, faith-based and other advocacy groups today announce plans to engage in civil disobedience at the Capitol Power Plant in Washington D.C. on the afternoon of March 2, 2009. The Capitol Climate Action (CCA), the largest mass mobilization on global warming in the country's history, reflects the growing public demand for bold action to address the climate and energy crises.

“The Capitol Climate Action comes not a moment too soon. For more than thirty years, scientists, environmentalists and people from all walks of life have urged our leaders to take action to stop global warming; and that action has yet to come,” said Dr. James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists. Dr. Hansen will join the protest. “Coal is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country and that must change. The world is waiting for the Obama administration and Congress to lead the way forward on this defining issue of our time. They need to start by getting coal out of Congress.”

And while it's good mental relaxation for some of us to imagine solar panels blanketing our cityscape in San Antonio, it is important to remember that until grossly overvalued coal industry is dealt with, there is no room clean energy to flower.

That's where many are expecting Gonzalez to lend a hand. He's prized due to his seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where the climate bill will be first considered. He's also one of the more liberal Texas members on that committee, where it is conceivable that three of the five Texans â?? Joe Barton, Ralph Hall, and Michael Burgess â?? will be voting against a carbon cap-and-trade no matter what the language of the bill.

Waxman's next climate bill is expeted to hit committee by Memorial Day. We wouldn't be upset with you if you placed a few encouraging calls to Gonzalez. We just happen to have his number right here: (202)225-3236.


Consider these stats on climate change provided by TCEC:

Greenhouse gas cuts of 25-40 percent under 1990 levels by 2020 will give us a 50/50 chance of avoiding 2-degree (Celcius) temperature rise above preindustrial levels. Most scientists agree that if we reach this temperature it will automatically lead to 3 and 4 degrees Celcuius above pre-industrial. Nature will have taken over.

President Obama has recommended cuts that would only get us back to 1990 levels by 2020, well below IPCC recommendations.

The best 100 scientists in the IPCC would undoubtedly make emission cut recommendations more severe than the IPCC because the IPCC waters down its own science in its consensus process and it did this assessment in 2007 before much important research was released.


What we will lose â?? even if we follow IPCC recommendations:

  • As much as half of Africa's food production will be gone by 2020 according to the IPCC
  • The Himalayan glaciers will be gone by 2035, according to the IPCC, if the world keeps warming at the current rate. Over 40% of the world's people will lose half their water.
  • If we stopped all emissions today, there are enough present emissions that the changes underway won't be reversed for over 1000 years. This is from a recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

More from Environment Texas on Gonzalez:

As one of the audience members pointed out at the town hall, last year global warming champ Henry Waxman (now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee) sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi laying out basic principles that must be part of any global warming legislation. More than 150 members of Congress, including three Texans, signed on to that letter, however Congressman Gonzalez did not. When asked about this, Congressman Gonzalez again took a pass on endorsing strong action on global warming. As a key member of the House Energy and Commerce committee, Congressman Gonzalez is in the driver's seat for developing clean energy and climate legislation this spring. The town hall meeting demonstrated widespread community support for bold action. Moving forward, we hope Congressman Gonzalez will support reducing total U.S. global warming pollution by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 through a combination of domestic cuts and international financing. We should not include loopholes, such as "offsets" and mechanisms that allow polluters to delay cutting pollution. We should auction 100% of allowances and invest all of the revenue in accelerating the transition to clean energy and assisting consumers.

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