The Waxman-Markey Climate Bill…Tuff Enuff?

By Chris Mooney | May 15, 2009 5:11 pm

A new draft climate change bill is now ready for House markup starting on Monday. See here. Have fun: It is 932 pages long.

There’s no doubt the bill would vastly change our energy system, and for the better. Yet as it’s the result of a compromise between coal-state and more liberal Dems–and because it had to be politically workable–it’s too weak for some environmentalists. The emails and press releases are already flying, with Greenpeace for instance charging that the bill would only reduce U.S. emissions by “4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.”

And then there’s the issue of emission permit allocations–the bill gives away a large percentage of them to polluters at first. Enviros hate that, too. It’s far less than president Obama hoped for, a 100 percent auction of permits.

But the question is, are enviros being helpful in attacking a bill that is serious, that is the result of compromise, that definitely accomplishes something unprecedented (capping emissions), and that strengthens over time? Is it not better to get started on this problem this year, than to hold out for a kind of perfection that is not politically achievable?

I’m a political pragmatist. So far, no one has convinced me that I should do anything other than to root for Waxman-Markey to pass Congress and eventually become law.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Energy, Environment, Global Warming

Comments (13)

  1. Jon

    There’s no contradiction between rooting for its passage and criticizing the shortcomings.

    The only real issue is if people think it’s sufficient and we entirely lose support for any further progress. But I think that overall it’s easier to change the cap schedule to lower more aggressively once you have a cap in place than the institute the cap when you have none.

  2. Erasmussimo

    I agree that pragmatism must come before idealism. I have not read the bill and never will, so I cannot comment on its details. However, I have no complaint at all with the principle of compromise, even when it means that we don’t get all we want. My impression is that America’s political arteries are getting gummed up with “no compromise on my hobby horse” people.

  3. What is the problem? Ban all energy use by productive citizens. “The First World is a privilege not a right.” Protected minorities, the old, the crippled, the retarded… the Officially Sad will sup without limit, their bills being paid by those who are denied access. Feudalism was good enough for Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (the descendant of “ten generations untouched by labor,” Leon Trotsky) and it is good enough for you – by order of Homeland Severity.

    “The chocolate ration has been increased from 40 grams/person-month to 25. We are winning the War of Productivity!”

  4. Hey Folks,
    It appears that Greenpeace is actually refusing to support the bill; see here:

    I don’t see how this is productive.

  5. Erasmussimo

    Uncle Al, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    The Greenpeace objection to the climate bill is *exactly* what’s stopping us from making progress. If Greenpeace could make the case that a better bill was possible, I could respect their position, but basically they are saying, “We’d rather have no action on climate change than this action.” And so things get worse.

  6. Jon

    Well it would be one thing if Greenpeace helped defeat the bill, but reasonable criticism from your left can be a good thing

  7. MadScientist

    Why would anyone whine about reducing emissions to ‘only’ 4% less than 1990 levels? Is anyone looking at the data to see how much more we’re putting out now than in 1990? 4% less than 1990 in 2020 would be amazing – in fact I’m betting a case of beer against it. When reality sets in people will see that reducing emissions is not as simple as they might imagine.

    Now giving away permits to pollute – that’s just lame lame lame; it reminds me of the EU’s useless ’emissions trading scam’ all over again.

    Well, like I say, the important thing is to get something started and I don’t care if it’s “2% below 2005 levels”. Years have been wasted with proposals + opposition because “it’s not good enough” on one hand and “it will harm industry and the economy” on the other and while time was being wasted on armchair arguments nothing useful was done. So to self-proclaimed greenies who whine about the target not being good enough, I say shut the hell up or you’re going to screw things up more and nothing will get done – again. I’m beginning to wonder if the ‘green’ groups are actually funded by large pro-status-quo corporations as they were in Ben Elton’s “This Other Eden”.

  8. Orson

    There’s no doubt the bill would vastly change our energy system, and for the better.
    Ah, the voice of HOPE (and “change”) over experience! “No doubt”? Except that there’s no track record of experience to support any such transformatvie notions – rather the reverse! Europe, for instance, has failed to reveres course despite moralistic opprobrium to the contrary. And at home in the US – anything different? No.

    But then Obama’s track record is the failure to learn from “the Lamp of experience” entirely – what else was I expecting…. Nothing.

  9. Erasmussimo

    Orson, if you were to offer reasoned analysis rather than diatribes, people might not ignore you as a troll.

  10. dc-guy

    This 932 page bill, released on Friday, May 15, is scheduled for committee amandments and votes beginning Monday, May 18. This is transparency and openness?

    Interesting that one commenter, Erasmussimo, who at least is honest, says “I haven’t read the bill, and never will.” Maybe before endorsing such a major policy change, at least Members of Congress should read the bill. Or should they just blindly vote for something written in the back room, by 25 year old staffers, and industry lobbyists?

    The media talks only about cap+trade, but there are dozens of other provisions in this bill. How many Congressmen know that there is a requirement for a new national building energy code, that will allow lawsuits against builders, and building owners, and homeowners,if their home or building does not meet stringent energy efficiency goals. These goals are not just a little more insulation, they will cost thousands for every house and hundreds of thousands for commercial buildings. Do even members of the committee know all the provisions in this huge bill? The answer is clearly “no”. And why rush it through committee with no opportunity for review?
    The only reason to rush the bill through without reveiw, is that the authors, Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey know that the public would never support these provisions, if they knew about them.
    Do people really want to allow lawsuits against homeowners and building owners, if their homes and buildings aren’t “green” enough to satisfy environmentalists?
    Why the rush?– Congress needs to look carefully at such major legislation. This kind of behind closed doors legislation is not the “change” we voted for.
    Members of Congress who vote for this bill before reading and being aware of all its provisions, will have to answer to angry voters down the road.

  11. Erasmussimo

    Good points, dc-guy. So I downloaded what appears to be the draft and looked up the material you mention. It’s in Sec. 201, and it specifies that any such building code specification”

    “shall be set at the maximum level of energy efficiency that is technologically feasible and life-cycle cost effective, and on a path to achieving net-zero-energy buildings;”

    I think this addresses your concern that this will add to the overall cost of structures. While it will raise the initial cost of construction, it will lower the operating cost of the structure by a discounted amount that is greater than the initial, and so the net cost of the change will be a reduction in overall costs of structures.

    Ultimately, this constitutes a net improvement for society as a whole, because it makes it more difficult for construction companies to cheat customers by using hidden techniques for saving construction costs that increase operational costs. In this sense, it’s no different from conventional building codes that strive to protect consumers from hidden defects that save the construction company money but impose higher risks upon the consumers. Thus, it does not constitute a deviation from existing practice, but instead merely extends that practice into energy costs.

  12. This post reminds me about some debate I have had with some left-winged people in Denmark.

    There are some demonstrations planned for the climate meetings in Copenhagen at the end of the year by the activists in Europe because they feel that the discussed measures don’t go far enough. I agree with them about that, but the fact is that this sort of demonstrations have a tendency to turn into riots (and I am pretty sure that at least Black Bloc plan to make that happen), and that is not going to help. A flawed agreement is better than no agreement.

    Another example of the perfect being the enemy of good.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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