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