Climate Committee Update
The intrepid Climate Team went onto the Hill again last week during recess, advocating for changes to the current iteration of the Waxman-Markey bill. We met with staffers for Barbara Mikulski, Chris Van Hollen, Jim Moran, Gerry Connolly, Donna Edwards and the House Energy and Commerce committee.
The most important change we were advocating was moving the deadline by which the country would move to 100% carbon auctions. In the current iteration of the bill, the government would start by auctioning the somewhat measly amount of 15% of carbon permits, giving 85% away for free. As Chris Brown and others have written, this policy places the expense of the transition to a carbon-neutral economy squarely on middle-class consumers, rather than on polluting industries, although it is true that an additional percentage of permits will be given to utility companies, who are (in theory, anyway) strictly regulated. In other words, utility companies might actually use the free carbon permits to ease the burden on their customers, the way the bill’s proponents are claiming they will, because state governments are watching them.
Still, Waxman-Markey is pretty weak tea as far as providing consumer relief or support during this critical time of transition. The bill lets polluting industries avoid paying for the right to pollute for many years. In fact, under the current iteration of the bill, we would not reach 100% carbon auctions until 2031—eleven years after our first deadline for cutting carbon emissions in 2020. In other words, there is an eleven-year lag between when the costs of cutting emissions will really start to go up, and when the industries will really have to start paying for it.
We would much prefer to have 100% carbon auctions *now*, but are proposing a compromise solution because we would rather have a version of Waxman-Markey than nothing. Our compromise is that we would reach full carbon auctions in 2020, the year of our first hard deadline for cutting emissions. This deadline would still give industries several years to adjust to the new economy, and would shift the burden from consumers at the time when they need it most.
We were received well by Chris Van Hollen’s legislative director, Bill Parsons, and Jim Moran’s legislative director, Tim Aiken. Both of them seemed to like our proposal and had substantive conversations with us about both politics and policy. What I brought away from those meetings is that we need to keep an eye on what happens to the bill in committee, and see if any amendments are made that we can get behind.
The Energy and Commerce staffer was very nice, but pretty much was delivering the committee’s party line that the bill is great and there will be few, if any, political or policy problems with it. Well—that’s pretty much what someone working for that committee has to say at this point. I liked the guy, for what it’s worth—I think he is genuinely an environmentalist and will talk to us again, but we’re unlikely to get much out of him but what the Energy and Commerce committee would publish in a press release.
We also with Barbara Mikulski’s staffer, and she received us well, but was noncommittal about the bill. We got a strong sense that the Senate just wanted to wait while the House fought it out, and not take any positions if they could help it.
We had a nice, long discussion with Terra Sabag, Donna Edwards’ legislative director. She said Donna had not yet made clear her position on the Waxman-Markey bill, though of course Donna is usually pro-environment. She said she would inform Donna of the points we made. I don’t know exactly where Donna will come down on this issue, but I think Terra Sabag treated us with respect and will actually pass the information along.
Gerry Connolly’s staffer had no interest in us once it was clear none of us at the meeting were from VA-11. Well, at least he was honest. We came away from that meeting with the idea that it would be fun to do some old-fashioned grassroots organizing and send a few hundred letters from VA-11 to Connolly’s office.
That’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the lake temperature is increasingly above average.