Climate bill: “Largest corporate welfare program” in history?
Some environmental groups and progressive Democrats are denouncing the American Clean Energy and Security Act as a massive subsidy for polluters and a meaningless response to climate change.
A day before the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act by a vote of 219-212, seven liberal and environmental organizations mounted a campaign to defeat the bill. The legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate.
The numerous provisions of the bill “do not add up to the steps needed to avert catastrophic climate disruption. Moreover, the bill’s emissions trading provisions create vested interests that would block future reforms,” Tom Stokes, coordinator of the Climate Crisis Coalition, wrote to the coalition members the day before in urging them to lobby their congressional representatives to vote against the bill.
Stokes, who was joined on the letter by Ezra Small, campaign organizer for the Climate Crisis Coalition, argued that cap on greenhouse gas emissions in the bill was far too weak to affect climate, and was rendered meaningless by offsets and allowances in the bill that “could allow U.S. emissions to keep increasing until 2040.” By overriding the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases, and overriding stronger state and regional compacts, the American Clean Energy and Security Act “ensures that its failure as climate policy will be catastrophic,” he added.
While criticizing the bill for doing nothing about climate change, Stokes also slammed the legislation for funneling $174 billion in subsidies to coal and oil companies and creating a playground for speculators by allowing the selling and trading of carbon credits.
The Citizen’s Climate Lobby, the CLEAN Coalition, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Progressive Democrats of America, the Carbon Tax Coalition, and the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change, all adopted similar positions. All of the groups support a simple, revenue-neutral carbon tax over the complicated cap-and-trade system at the center of the House’s climate change bill.
Industry groups generally supported the bill. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a group representing the operators of coal-burning power plants, lobbied for the bill, as did New Jersey gas and electric company PSEG and Entergy Corp., a $13 billion electric power company operating in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. They were joined by 20 of America’s largest corporations, including Nike, Starbucks, Duke Energy, and Hewlett-Packard, who formed the “We Can Lead” Coalition to lobby for the House bill.
Although most news coverage characterized the bill’s opponents as conservatives, who opposed action on climate change, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said that wasn’t always the case.
“This energy bill’s fine print betrays its laudable purpose. The real cap is on the public interest and the trade is the billions from the public to polluters,” Doggett said.
Doggett characterized the bill as a step backward on addressing climate change. “An Administration analysis shows that doing nothing actually results in more new renewable electricity generation capacity than approving this bill,” he said. “Vital authority for the EPA is stripped, but 2 billion additional tons of pollution are authorized every year, forever. . . . Exempting a hundred new coal plants and paying billions to Old King Coal leaves him, indeed, a very merry old soul,” he said, adding that the bill is “the largest corporate welfare program in the history of the United States.” — Peter Downs (email@example.com)
Peter Downs is a St. Louis-based journalist who writes frequently on environmental issues.