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Friends of the Earth Goes it Alone: Urges 'No' on Climate Bill

by Stacy Morford

The House climate bill took another hit this week as Rep. Henry Waxman made further concessions, this time to farm-state Democrats, to ensure the bill's safe passage on Friday. Even weakened, though, the bill continued to draw support from most of the big environmental organizations.

Except for Friends of the Earth. The organization is going it alone with an ad campaign and request to its members to demand better legislation from Congress. FOE President Brent Blackwelder is publicly urging Congress to either substantially strengthen the bill or vote no.

"Corporate polluters including Shell and Duke Energy helped write this bill, and the result is that we're left with legislation that fails to come anywhere close to solving the climate crisis," Blackwelder wrote.

"Worse, the bill eliminates preexisting EPA authority to address global warming-that means it's actually a step backward.

"This exercise in politics as usual is a wholly unacceptable response to one of the greatest challenges of our time, and it endangers the welfare of current and future generations. ... If the ‘political reality' at present cannot accommodate stronger legislation, their first task must be to expand what is politically possible-not to pass a counterproductive bill."

That position hasn't been easy hasn't been easy to take. Some of the largest environmental groups, including NRDC and EDF, were involved with Shell and Duke in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a consortium that wrote the industry-environment compromise that the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill is based on. Groups that have questioned the legislation have been pressured to back off.

Blackwelder has also been pressured to support the bill, as well as to delay releasing an FOE report that looked into Wall Street's expectations for the bill's cap-and-trade program and the high potential for gaming and corruption in a carbon-trading system.

"We're getting a lot of criticism, but we've spoken honestly about the defects we see in this bill and that this is going to be a setback," Blackwelder told SolveClimate. "If you have a proposal that can't stand the light of day, then it's time someone said ‘Hey, the emperor has no clothes!'"

When Reps. Waxman and Ed Markey accepted U.S. CAP's compromise as the foundation for their climate bill, they set the bar too low, Blackwelder said.

"If you're going to deal from a low point, it's only going to go lower. Now, we've got a deal that will basically eviscerate biofuels standards," he said, referring to the latest concessions for farm-state Democrats. "It's just one thing after another."

"We're going to stand up for what the science calls for and point out the flaws."

It's unlikely at this point that House Democrats will attempt to strengthen a bill that they've already watered down to win what could be a close vote on the House floor Friday.

Under House Minority Leader John Boehner's orders, Republicans have almost uniformly lined up in opposition. Some coal-state and Midwestern Democrats, despite the concessions Rep. Collin Peterson wrung from the bill's sponsors this week, could still oppose the bill, as could some on the left who oppose cap-and-trade or say the ACES bill in its current form simply doesn't do enough.

The Rules Committee set a 9:30 a.m. Thursday deadline for submitting amendments to the ACES bill. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and a few other House members are quietly considering amendments, however the Rules Committee would not say how many had been submitted as of today.

Greenpeace isn't counting on amendments strengthening the bill now, though the group is remaining "agnostic" on the vote, spokesman Daniel Kessler said.

"We will keep calling upon President Obama to stick to his campaign pledge to stand with the science. He can act administratively or insert himself into the House debate, and its only through his leadership that we stand a chance against all of the politics and special interests," he said.

"As for amendments, I think we are beyond that. The biggest flaw is the targets, and no amendment will strengthen those. Offsets are now with the ag department showing that this debate is out of control and declining fast."

Obama has stayed behind the scenes through most of the ACES battle, but at a news conference yesterday, he urge Congress to pass the bill. The president said the bill would lead to the development of renewable energy, encourage energy efficiency and make clean energy profitable, leading to millions of new U.S. jobs.

"We all know why this is so important. The nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy," Obama said. "That is what this legislation seeks to achieve - it is a bill that will open the door to a better future for this nation. And that is why I urge members of the House to come together and pass it."

The president also went out of his way during that news conference to publicly thank two House Democrats who played the greatest roles in weakening the bill: Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who bragged in detail about the concessions he extracted during committee hearings so "the coal industry and the thousands of jobs in our region that coal provides will be secure," and Rep. Peterson (D-Minn.), who forced the latest round of changes.

Peterson's demands, which are expected to be met in an amendment from Waxman, include delaying for five years the EPA's authority to consider land-use changes when measuring the lifecycle emissions of biofuel, putting the Department of Agriculture in charge of agriculture offsets rather the EPA, and giving a percentage of valuable emissions credits free to rural electric cooperatives.

The majority of the big environmental groups have called for the bill to be strengthened, but at the same time have urged its passage, saying ACES at least gets a foot in the door.

Twenty leading leading climate scientists made that argument in a letter to Congress and the president earlier this week. A letter from 29 environmental groups led by the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, Audubon Society, Union of Concerned Scientists and NRDC also echoed that theme, noting that the bill wouldn't be final until the president signs:

"On behalf of millions of members and volunteers that our organizations represent, we write to urge you to support final passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES)," they wrote.

"We also urge you to do everything possible to strengthen the bill between now and final passage, and along its journey to the president's desk."

The groups note that the window of opportunity is short - it's a non-election year and Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House - and that ACES is only the first step. They also urge members of Congress to support any amendments that would strengthen the renewable energy and energy efficiency provisions of the bill and create more clean energy jobs.

The League of Conservation Voters, another signer of that letter, went a step farther. It issued an ultimatum, vowing in what it calls "an unprecedented decision" to not endorse any House member in 2010 who votes against the ACES bill.

A group of 20 businesses and energy companies, including Duke, Exelon, PG&E, PSEG and NRG, also wrote to the president and Congress in favor of the bill, saying that:

"Putting a price on carbon will drive investment into cost-saving, energy-saving technologies, and will create the next wave of jobs in the new energy economy."

Republicans, meanwhile, continued their opposition, arguing that more drilling was the answer and that climate action would increase our children's debt - never mind the studies showing how a continuation of business as usual will leave them with a far more expensive bill to pay.

Newt Gingrich's American Solutions group launched a fear mongering ad with footage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse. Boehner, who has succeeded so far in keeping House Republicans toeing his line, sent the Republicans a memo saying that anyone who voted for the ACES bill, including Democrats, did so at their own peril:

"The American people will remember this debate and will remember who stands up for them."

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