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Clean Energy Bill Survives: Political Realists Rejoice, Climate Science Realists Demand More

Now the next challenge: how to stop this bill from being weakened as it winds itself through the House and the Senate.

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From the perspective of political realism, it will be a great challenge just to stop this bill from being weakened as it winds itself through the House and especially the Senate.

From the perspective of climate science realists, the bill has two gaping flaws.  And I don't mean the allocations for big polluters.  I know many of my readers disagree, but I just don't think that the allocation undermines the goals of the bill at all, and in fact are a perfectly reasonable way of satisfying political needs while preventing windfalls for polluters and preserving prices.

The first flaw is the 2 billion offsets that polluters can potentially use instead of their own emissions reductions.  I have previously explained why I am far less worried about domestic offsets (see here).  In a regulated market with a cap, many of the domestic offsets will represent real reductions of US greenhouse gas emissions, and the total supply of cheap domestic offsets will be limited.  I will blog tomorrow on why I do not believe the international offsets threaten the overall integrity of the bill.  The bottom line is that the vast amounts of moderate-cost near-term domestic emissions reductions strategies -- energy efficiency, conservation, replacing coal power with natural gas-fired power, wind power, biomass cofiring, concentrated solar thermal power, recycled energy, geothermal, and hydro power (see " An introduction to the core climate solutions") –  will be cheaper (in quantity) than most of the offsets will be in 2020.

Second, the 2020 target is too weak (see here).  Given the lost 8 years of the Bush administration, it was inevitable that a bill which doesn't even impose a cap until 2012 could not have the same 2020 target (compared to 1990 levels) than the Europeans are considering.

That means we're going to build too much polluting crap in the next decade.  That means we'll have to go back and unbuild it at some point.  More expensive, sure, than doing it right the first time, but no more difficult than deploying a dozen or so accelerated stabilization wedges globally in three to four decades needed to beat 450 ppm.

For me, a two-term President Obama (together with the next three Congresses) cannot solve the global warming problem, but can create the conditions that allow the next couple of presidents to do what is needed.  Or he can be thwarted, making it all but impossible for future presidents.

The only hope for stabilizing at 350 to 450 ppm is a WWII-scale and WWII-style effort as I have said many times.  And that implies a level of desperation we don't have now (see " What are the near-term climate Pearl Harbors?").  When we have that desperation, probably in the 2020s, we'll want to already have:

  • substantially dropped below the business-as-usual emissions path
  • started every major business planning for much deeper reductions
  • goosed the cleantech venture and financing community
  • put in place the entire framework for U.S. climate regulations
  • accelerated many tens of gigawatts of different types of low-carbon energy into the marketplace
  • put billions into developing advanced low-carbon technology
  • started building out the smart, green grid of the 21st century
  • trained and created millions of clean energy jobs
  • negotiated a working international climate regime
  • brought China into the process

This bill is crucial to achieving all of those vital goals.

Kudos to Henry Waxman and Ed Markey -- and a great many other progressive politicians and advocates -- for making this historic moment happen.

UPDATE:  Nobelist Al Gore today issued the following statement on the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee: