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In an unexpected moment in the saga of the struggling climate bill, hushed reports emerged yesterday saying that the Democrats had finally reached an agreement--and that the important bill will finally move on. But that agreement came at a price that many expected: namely, concessions to big utility companies and polluting industries, and a lowering of many of the bill's once-ambitious goals. So what's the more realistic vision for US climate action? Although some big chunks have been taken out, it's still, well, better than nothing. But it's starting to look a lot more like Europe's ineffective first cap and trade go 'round in a number of ways: many of the pollution permits will be given out for free (instead of 100% auctioned as Obama wanted), the renewable energy standard has been lowered, and the bill may include measures to allow short term oil drilling to appease some moderates.
Details are still emerging, so here's what's being reported so far from a few different sources:
From Yale 360:
Roughly half of the permits issued to major carbon dioxide emitters will initially be given away for free, rather than auctioned
From the NY Times:
For example, Waxman and the committee's Democrats are close on emissions allowances, with about 35 percent of the emission credits being given away for free to the local distribution companies that service the electric utility industry. Trade-intensive industries such as steel, paper and cement also would get between 10 percent and 15 percent of the credits in the opening year. Petroleum refiners also would get between 1 percent and 5 percent of their allowances for free.
So the more you pollute, the more of a break you get initially, measures no doubt designed to ease the burden of the transition. Both reports say that the percent given away would decrease until completely wiped out in 10-15 years.
Now let's see how low that Renewable Energy Standard can go:
Waxman has lowered his sights from an original plan requiring 25 percent of the country's energy to come from wind, solar and biomass by 2025, with efficiency measures used to meet a fifth of the target. It is still unclear what the final agreement will be, but sources said Waxman has offered two possible targets for 2025: 15 percent, and 5 percent compliance through efficiency measures, or 12 percent and 8 percent energy efficiency.
And finally, there's the possibility that oil drilling could enter the picture too. From Grist:
Another bargaining chip with moderate Democrats might be offshore oil and gas drilling. Obama changed his tune on the issue while campaigning last year, saying he'd be open to more offshore drilling if it were part of a comprehensive energy plan . . . Now the White House is floating the possibility of a "grand bargain" that would lump some expanded domestic oil and gas drilling in with broader climate and energy policy.
Noting definitive there, but it's a very real possibility the bill could end up with provisions that open some areas for oil drilling, in the name of compromise.
So that's where the climate bill stands now--and even with those chinks in its armor, and polluting companies getting a bit of an easier deal than we'd like--we still very much need it to pass. And frankly, the compromises could have been a lot worse--all free permits, or an even further depleted renewable energy standard. Now we just have hope it can make it through the Senate.