Policy wonks and green energy gurus finally have a number to put to their obsession: the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) is now H.R. 2454, and as reported on ClimateWire at the NYT last week, the committee mark-up now gets to make its way through the full House and Senate. Oh, did I forget to mention that they want that done by July 4?
What is the hurry? The question applies here for reasons expanded upon below, but generally, where do Obama and the Dems think the fire is? Obama wants GM to be in and out of their BK in 60-90 days. Obama wants Sotomayor confirmed in time to sit with the court as they pick next term’s caseload. And, as you’ll recall, Obama wanted ACES through committee by Memorial Day.
Not only am I convinced that it is no coincidence that the climate change bill has been tied to two of our most patriotic holidays – after all, like higher taxes, saving energy is patriotic, right Veep? – but, I have to wonder what Obama thinks he gains from pushing this bill through at breakneck speed.
Already the brew is watered down. The 100% auction-based system candidate Obama called for has already been sacrificed to get through committee, and the bill is larded with coal state giveaways to fund gasification research and clean coal programs. Sure, overcoming the objections of entrenched interests like old-line utilities, brown dogs on the left, and most everyone on the right was going to be tough; but, what is the bill worth if it trades cap-and-trade for free passes, and expands and perverts DSM compliance options to include state programs that protect local interests – including coal?
The initial draft proposal was already watered down by political considerations – including a hydro exclusion which promises to make grid conversion more difficult, slower and less likely while also violating NAFTA – and jamming it through so quickly undoubtedly cost more in horse-trading, just to get the 35 votes it got in committee. Last week, GRIST’s Kate Sheppard wrote about the additional pounds of flesh that are likely to be extracted.
As a political calculation, I don’t know why Obama is so insistent on boxing himself in to self-imposed but arbitrary timelines. But, in the ACES context, it is symptomatic of the casual way that too many are approaching the energy-environment question. In December 2008, NYT quoted George Sterzinger, executive director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, as saying that “we are really overselling how quick, how easy and how complete the transition can be.” That distorted sense of reality is exacerbated by the rosy treatment that green power is getting in the press; witness last weekend’s NYT story on LED expansion which cited the promise and progress of a switch over to LED lighting liberally before getting to the hard facts in paragraph 10 of the story: LEDs remain an order of magnitude more expensive and have limited uses thanks to still-developing technology.
Take all of that, add in the worst of the above-cited legislative tinkering with ACES and other energy legislation, tack on the unintended consequences of the bill, and then throw in the real – if overstated – price escalation risks to consumers. Is now the time? It might be. But, is it the time to rush? We already know that consumers are going upside down on the energy-economy trade-off — this winter Gallup poll found that more Americans than ever are skeptical, saying that the economy should be given priority, even at the expense of the environment. Tack on a hurried energy bill and we risk sacrificing the long-term public will to endure the sea change that needs to be undertaken.
I know that President Obama has Copenhagen on his mind, and that has resulted in some political plays to stake a claim to climate leadership — see February’s EPA announcement on CO2 and the potential (read: threat) of a command and control regime for stationary sources. But, this is too important to do the kind of fumbles we’ve seen with “priorities” like the Clintons’ health care plan and Bush 43’s Social Security privatization.
Maybe an adulterated ACES can serve as a valuable Trojan Horse to get cap-and-trade, federal RES/RPS mandates, new EE standards, and other progressive energy policies in place – even if only in skeletal forms that can be fattened up over time. Feldstein is wrong that the US should wait to be part of a global carbon scheme, but he might be right that we should wait until we have something that will work.
Image Credit: http://weblogs.cltv.com/ and Alex Ross