There will be blood – and global warming
February 19, 2008 - 4:25pm ET
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A year after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth won an Oscar -- amid expectations that the champagne toasts and trendy carbon-neutral academy ceremony might shame our lawmakers to move quickly on global warming -- Congress still appears to be waiting for someone to yell “action!”
The most prominent Senate actor on this issue, Joe Lieberman, I-CT, teamed up with retiring Senator John Warner, R-VA, to push a bill through a Senate committee last December. But Lieberman appears to have become distracted by his campaigning for John McCain, R-AZ, (who doesn’t seem to understand that his own climate legislation would require mandatory limits on global warming emissions). http://www.commodityonline.com/news/topstory/newsdetails.php?id=5555
In the House of Representatives, Chairman John Dingell, D-MI, of the Energy and Commerce Committee continues at a stately pace to draft “white papers” on the subject. (First alert: one white paper will be aimed at trying to block California and other states from limiting global warming emissions from cars.)
One reason for the apparent congressional inertia may be fundamental disagreements among leaders of the biggest source of global warming pollution – the electric power industry. And those disagreements were on display last week as three top execs spoke to gilt-edged audiences.
In an address to an investor summit at the United Nations, Peter A. Darbee, Chairman, CEO and President of the California-based PG&E Corporation, called on the federal government to “set long-term national targets and timetables” for reducing greenhouse gases.
"In conversations with other business leaders, I've heard more times than I can count that it's impossible or impractical to make much headway on greenhouse gases until we have better technology," Darbee said. "That is not the case. It's a red herring. . . . The biggest obstacle right now is a lack of will - not invention."
PG&E is among the companies that have publicly backed the so-called Lieberman-Warner climate bill as a “solid starting point” for action in Congress, though I strongly suspect the company, which doesn’t use coal as a power source, would prefer a quicker phase out of the bill’s controversial coal subsidies. http://www.pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/about/environment/pge/climate/comm...
The Senate legislation was praised in a different forum last week by another top power company executive, John Rowe, chairman of Chicago-based Exelon. In a speech to the Brookings Institution, Rowe declared “we need not – and should not – wait for a new President” to deal with the climate issue. (An interesting comment, since Exelon is one of the top campaign contributors to Barack Obama. http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/contrib.asp?id=N00009638&cycle=2008 )
Rowe was adamant that free carbon pollution permits should not be given away to power companies based on the amount of pollution they produce, noting that this could create “economic windfalls” for some companies.
Interestingly, Friends of the Earth Action has launched a campaign against the Lieberman-Warner bill over this very issue. www.lieberman-warner.org In an attempted overture to coal-burning power companies, the bill would include an estimated trillion dollars in free emission permits to polluters, while gradually transitioning to a fairer system that would make polluters pay.
The apparent failure of that overture was on graphic display last week, as a third influential power executive, Jim Rogers, chairman of Duke Energy, slammed the Lieberman-Warner bill.
Sounding a bit like Shakespearean bad-boy Edmund from King Lear http://www.online-literature.com/shakespeare/kinglear/3/, Rogers charged that “What they have done is they have bastardized cap and trade" by attempting to transition to a polluter-pay approach, under which the federal government would auction carbon permits.
Rogers, who has promoted himself as a leader in the global warming battle, told a Cambridge Energy Research Associates conference in Houston that "an auction is nothing more than a tax" which he claimed would lead to steep price increases. His attack was more than a bit ironic since, not that long ago, North Carolina-based Duke was an outspoken proponent of exactly that – a tax on carbon emissions as a way to limit them. http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2005/05/carbontax.html (Ironically, the Congressional Budget Office last week basically endorsed the original Duke view -- that a carbon tax would be the most efficient way of reducing carbon emissions.
Rogers, who said he hopes to influence the presidential candidates, basically was saying he’d try to kneecap legislation in Congress – unless his company gets an even bigger payoff than that contained in the Lieberman-Warner bill.
Thanks to influential double-talkers like Rogers, Al Gore may have time to do a sequel.
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