How Much Compromise Would Make the Climate Bill Worthless?


Photo via EarthFirst

I know that everyone's trying to keep their judgment reigned in before the climate bill is officially unveiled next week, but I can't help saying something: it just keeps looking worse and worse for the thing. Reuters just reported that Johny Kerry (D-MA), one of the bill's chief architects, is now saying there's not going to be any kind of motor fuel tax, or any kind of 'linked tax' on the oil industry--but that there will indeed be expanded domestic drilling and more nuclear entitlements. Which gets me thinking--how low will this thing have to go before it's not even worth doing from an environmental standpoint?It's certainly hard to say for sure before the details roll out, but ditching the gas tax is a pretty hefty blow to the bill's potential environmental benefit. Remember, what we know so far about the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman is that it eschews the economy-wide cap and trade system, opting instead for what was originally a 3-tiered approach. It was going to tackle each of the major polluting sectors separately--putting a kind of mini-carbon caps on energy producers, another one on the manufacturing sector (to be phased in at a later date), and a gas tax to tackle the oil industry.

And then there's this, via Reuters: "In an attempt to lure some additional Republican support for a climate bill, Kerry, Graham and Lieberman have been talking about expanding the nuclear power industry and offering new incentives for oil drilling off some U.S. coasts." Which would go beyond the expansions in both arenas that the Obama administration itself already enacted.

So now, Kerry says there's no gas tax--essentially one third of the general effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Coal is still the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, so the cap on the energy sector will matter most, but still, I'm not sure how K-G-L, or Keggles, could possibly plan on tackling the oil industry without either a cap on its emissions or a tax. And then there's that talk of further incentivizing oil production--it almost sounds like this bill is going to encourage oil use, not restrict it.

By the end of all these compromises, I worry that this "climate" bill will be little more than show, a politely worded memo to industry. And if green groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth weren't happy with the last bill--the one that passed the House of Reps last summer and that's looking pretty incredible now by comparison--they're going to hate this one.

Of course, we're going to have to wait and see--but at this point, it will be an amazing tightrope act to have pulled off if K-G-L can produce something that will legitimately put a dent in carbon emissions, while living up to all the compromises reported so far to have been made in order to draw conservative support.

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