The following is an update on the status of the Waxman-Markey bill, written by Pam Sparr. Pam is a member of All Souls Church, Unitarian, and consultant to several religious organizations on matters of climate change and environmental justice.
Representatives Waxman and Markey formally introduced H.R. 2454, The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, on May 15, 2009. This is the long awaited official introduction of comprehensive climate change legislation in this session of Congress. The House Energy & Commerce Committee is in the middle of marking-up the bill and the committee chair (Waxman) is hoping to get a vote before they adjourn for Memorial Day.
Many concessions have been made based on what was initially proposed in the bill’s discussion draft in order to cobble together the support needed among Democrats. While the religious community as a whole is eager for the bill to make it out to the floor and be passed, there are calls to strengthen the language in various provisions. Some are concerned that too strong a press to improve the language could tank the bill entirely.
Greenhouse gas emissions targets:
2020 – 17% below 2005; 2050 – 83% below 2005
These targets are not as ambitious as many would like. They are even weaker than what they appear as they use 2005 as a baseline rather than 1990, which is the baseline for international negotiations.
Cap and trade system:
The vast majority of allowances will not be auctioned; freebies phase out over time.
Giving a large % of allowances away in early years diminishes the amount of money available for distributing, including for international adaptation spending. Problems with insufficient regulation of carbon markets can create international financial problems down the road – which can be a justice issue in and of itself. Drafters of the bill have crafted language in a way that they expect free allowances to the utility sector will shield consumers from higher prices.
Ability to buy off-sets:
The draft bill enabled corporations to avoid major emissions reductions through purchasing a sizeable amount of off-sets. This problem does not appear to have been fixed in the actual legislation. The way forest off-sets are handled is a particular concern for human rights activists and environmental groups because of the history of indigenous people and forest communities. Developing countries do not want developed nations such as the U.S. to avoid making their own sizeable emissions cuts by buying their way out of things through overseas off-sets.
International adaptation funding:
2012-2021, 2% of allowances goes to international adaptation and clean tech (1% each); 4% for 2022-2026; 8% from 2027.
These proposed amounts are extremely low in the early years compared to estimates of the U.S. fair-share of adaptation spending, which would be about $7 billion annually (or more than 7% of total allowance value as the bill is currently constructed). The U. S. is legally obligated to provide this funding under international law and the faith community and other groups are arguing that the U.S. has a strong moral obligation to provide compensation for damages developing countries have already incurred as a result of climate change. Crafters of the bill have formulated a system for providing adaptation fund that end-runs the appropriation process. Writers of the bill seem to have found a way to make the stream of international adaptation funding regular and reliable over time rather than subject to the annual vagaries of the appropriations process – which had been a big concern.
Domestic adaptation & worker transition assistance:
The bill provides 2% of allowance values for domestic adaptation needs with half going to address natural resource concerns and half to adaptation purposes, for humans, including public health. Another 0.5% will go to help workers in affected industries.
It will be important to assure that low-income and other vulnerable communities receive priority attention in the use of domestic adaptation funding. The inclusion of worker transition assistance is a big win.
If your Representative sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, contact her/him immediately. The House switchboard is: 202.224.3121. Both Democrats and Republicans need to hear that their constituents support strong climate change legislation. Congratulate them on getting this far on the bill and urge them to:
- Improve the short-term emissions targets. These are below what the international community expects and what scientists feel is necessary.
- Increase international adaptation spending. Begin with at least $3.5 billion annually.
- Assure that low-income and other types of communities that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the U.S. are prioritized for adaptation funds.