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The Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Energy Bill is Still Too Weak

Capital Times Editorial

The American Clean Energy and Security legislation that was backed by the Obama administration and congressional Democratic leaders as a centerpiece of the drive to address climate change was approved late last week by the U.S. House.

Congressman Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who was a primary architect of the bill, called its passage a "decisive and historic action to promote America's energy security and to create millions of clean energy jobs that will drive our economic recovery and long-term growth."

But the House endorsement was anything but enthusiastic.

The bill earned just 219 votes in its favor to 212 against, with three members not voting.

Most House Democrats (including Wisconsinites Tammy Baldwin, Gwen Moore, Steve Kagen and Dave Obey) backed the plan to curb the heat-trapping gases that scientists have linked to global warming. Of the 219 "yes" votes, 211 came from members of the president's party. Just eight Republicans voted for the measure.

Opposing it were 168 Republicans (including Wisconsinites Paul Ryan, Tom Petri and James Sensenbrenner) and a notable 44 Democrats.

The Democrats who opposed the plan were, for the most part, conservatives and moderates from rural areas -- many of whom feared the measure would be too tough on farmers.

But there were progressive opponents who said the bill did not go far enough to address climate change.

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who has a history of advocating for green energy policies, cast one of the "no" votes.

Frankly, we would not have minded if Congresswoman Baldwin and other Democratic members from Wisconsin had joined him. But we recognize that this was a tough call for Baldwin and her colleagues, and that Baldwin, in particular, tried to improve the legislation.

The problem is that, despite Baldwin's best efforts, the legislation is disappointing.

Kucinich said of the bill: "It won't address the problem. In fact, it might make the problem worse.

"It sets targets that are too weak, especially in the short term, and sets about meeting those targets through Enron-style accounting methods. It gives new life to one of the primary sources of the problem that should be on its way out -- coal -- by giving it record subsidies. And it is rounded out with massive corporate giveaways at taxpayer expense. There is $60 billion for a single technology which may or may not work, but which enables coal power plants to keep warming the planet at least another 20 years.

"Worse, the bill locks us into a framework that will fail. Science tells us that immediately is not soon enough to begin repairing the planet. Waiting another decade or more will virtually guarantee catastrophic levels of warming. But the bill does not require any greenhouse gas reductions beyond current levels until 2030.

"Today's bill is a fragile compromise, which leads some to claim that we cannot do better. I respectfully submit that not only can we do better; we have no choice but to do better. Indeed, if we pass a bill that only creates the illusion of addressing the problem, we walk away with only an illusion. The price for that illusion is the opportunity to take substantive action."

That view was echoed by a number of environmental groups.

"To support such a bill is to abandon the real leadership that is called for at this pivotal moment in history. We simply no longer have the time for legislation this weak," said Daniel Kessler of Greenpeace, which opposed the bill along with Friends of the Earth.

Carl Pope, national executive director of the Sierra Club, countered: "With today's historic vote, Congress has taken the first step toward unleashing a true clean-energy revolution."

The key phrase there was "first step."

Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, argued the middle ground, saying: "I do believe a weak bill is better than no bill. ... I think today's vote establishes a good deal of momentum. There's a head of steam, hopefully, wind- and solar-generated steam."

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