Thursday, August 27, 2009

Climate SOS fights "worse than nothing" bill

There was some debate among environmentalists this summer over the American Clean Energy & Security Act (ACESA), which passed the House in June. Some claimed the bill was "the best that we could do." Others, including leading climate scientist James Hansen, said ACESA would “do more harm to the environment than doing nothing at all.”

Climate SOS, a grassroots coalition of groups and individuals, sides with Hansen, and asks that concerned citizens contact senators over the recess to express their support for a stronger bill. The fear is that a Senate version of ACESA will be based on, and even weaker than the House bill.

To support proactive steps against a potentially bad bill, Climate SOS's “Green Bill or No Bill” tour will be reaching out to voters, and are asking for help with the tour, especially in North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The tour will also hit New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Washington and Oregon. Actions at the district offices of "fence-sitting senators are planned, and you can find out more on the groups's website at, or email them at


  • Prevents the U.S. from making anything remotely close to its fair share of greenhouse gas emissions reductions - necessary for averting catastrophic consequences and forging an effective global strategy on climate stabilization.
  • Uses public money to subsidize the most polluting industries like coal and nuclear, drawing much needed financing away from real climate solutions like renewable energy production;
  • Adds more toxic and climate polluting smokestacks, especially in backyards of the poor, people of color, and indigenous communities across the U.S., by grandfathering dirty old coal plants, permitting numerous new ones, and subsidizing incinerators as a form of renewable energy.

Legislators are home through Labor Day. After that, call the Capitol at 202-224-3121. There's talking points at the "Read More" link.
Talking Points
1. The bill does not even aim for keeping atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration below 450 parts-per-million (ppm). Current science tells us that we must return to below 350 ppm. We are currently at 387 ppm and already experiencing serious consequences while the worst is still coming down the pipeline, due to delays in climate system amplifications of man-made warming. Let's take serious action before it's too late!

2. It relies upon a cap and trade scheme to reduce emissions. Cap and trade has been tried before—for example, in the European Union and elsewhere—and proven ineffective(1). Dr. James Hansen calls it "a subterfuge designed to allow business-as-usual to continue". Effective options (revenue-neutral tax and dividend, for example) for regulating carbon emissions should be implemented.

3. It allows carbon polluters to keep polluting if they buy offsets. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has faulted the credibility of the lucrative* CO2 offsets market, yet the bill continues to rely upon this dubious scheme.(2) Offsets are not an effective substitute for straightforward pollution reduction at the smokestack. Over half of the approved offset credits under the Kyoto Protocol have turned out not to meet the required criteria of "verifiable, additional or permanent".

4. It preempts the EPA authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. This important public agency, which exists to protect Americans from environmental harm, should be allowed to do its job.

5. It categorizes a host of destructive technologies, such as the burning of biomass and garbage, as "renewable," which makes them eligible for taxpayer- and ratepayer-funded green energy incentives. We should not be giving toxic smokestack and carbon-intensive incinerator technologies the same privileged status as wind, geothermal, and solar.

6. Industry-specific carbon accounting loopholes are written into the bill. For example, the CO2 from wood biomass burning, in a seemingly arbitrary move, does not get counted or capped at the smokestack, and when trees are harvested to feed biomass plants, the carbon emissions are not counted in the forestry sector either. Biomass burning should not get a free ride. Biomass burning results in carbon emissions that will take decades, potentially hundreds of years to resequester, if ever. We desperately need to be protecting, not burning, our forest and grassland ecosystems.

7. It grandfathers existing coal plants and will allow many new coal plants to come on line. Even though Carbon Capture and Sequestration technology is supposedly required years later, its existence can not be counted on, is much more expensive compared to solar and wind, and potential leakage makes underground storage of sequestered CO2 a serious threat to the integrity of climate mitigation and even public safety. We should be quickly phasing out coal plants starting now. We also need to invest in just transition pathways for utilities workers, coal miners and their families, so that the new energy economy is one that is rooted in community justice.

8. A letter to Congress, signed by over 200 organizations nationwide (initiated by the Center for Biological Diversity) points to many of the same concerns we identify, claiming …”we recognize the massive political effort that is necessary to pass climate legislation, but a bill with inadequate targets, loophole ridden mechanisms, rollbacks of our flagship environmental laws, and inadequate financing to help developing countries address climate change will move us in the wrong direction.”

In sum, this bill will entrench us in pathways into deeper pollution and poverty, and our last chance of averting the worst of climate catastrophe will be lost forever. Our most vulnerable communities both in the U.S. and around the world - predominantly working poor, people of color and Indigenous communities that have the lightest carbon footprints will be the first to suffer from the impacts of these failures.

More articles/resources:
*(Global CO2 offset transactions have been estimated at $7.2 billion in 2008, with transactions in the secondary market topping $25 billion. Under an ACESA type of bill this market will be greatly expanded)

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