Does the New Climate Bill Provide the Answer to Our Environmental Woes or Just More Handouts for Big Energy?

Well, the Kerry-Lieberman "American Power Act" climate bill has been announced--read the full version or, if you've got less time on your hands, the short summary--and it feels like deja vu.


The bill's authors proclaim it will do everything for the United States short of ensuring an ample supply of apple pie for every citizen. Work-within-the-system commenters from Climate Progress to the NRDC are expressing support with caveats about the details. The usual activists like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth remind us that the whole thing is just another hand out for fossil fuels and it doesn't mention anything about deep enough carbon emission reductions. It's virtual trench warfare, the same battle lines as we've seen for over eighteen months.

The thing is both John Kerry and Greenpeace are right. They may be talking about different aspects of the situation, but both are right. For the environment that's a very unfortunate thing.

Just look at what John Kerry wrote in Grist:

And here's what I can tell you: A comprehensive climate bill written purely for you and me -- true believers -- can't pass the Senate no matter how hard or passionately I fight on it. No, it's got to be an effort that makes my colleagues -- and that has to include Republicans so we can get to 60 -- comfortable about the jobs we're going to create and the protection for consumers and the national security benefits -- and it has to address those pieces on their terms. The good news: I think we got that balance right.

And how Greenpeace describes the bill:

In the midst of a disastrous oil spill, we have a bill that incentivizes off-shore oil drilling. In the aftermath of a horrific explosion in the West Virginia coal mine, we have a bill that proposes to subsidize coal. And as Nashville dries out from historic flooding that may well be climate change related, we have a bill which does not present meaningful reductions in fossil fuel use and carbon pollution necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. It seems that after a year and a half wrangling, the only people who can be happy with this bill are the fossil fuel industry lobbyists.

Ignore the last sentence in both and each accurately describes the same unfortunate state of affairs of the American environmental scene.

Taken on its own, the American Power Act is indeed not nearly strong enough on offshore oil drilling; it has massive support for the misnomer of clean coal, continuing the delusion that coal can ever be clean while mined and we can ever really capture enough emissions at scale to environmentally justify its continued use in the mid-to-long term; it only barely mentions renewable energy outside of funding research; the emission reduction proposals are flatly a tragic joke when viewed from the scientific perspective of having to reduce CO2 concentrations to 350ppm to avoid ecological catastrophe. The activists are right, full stop.

But so is John Kerry's reading of the state of American political consciousness. When it comes down to it, it's not even assured that this bill will pass. Environmental, energy, and global warming concern well may be on American's minds--as recent opinion polls Climate Progress is parsing bear out--but collectively we're barely past admitting we have a problem, let alone starting the depth of societal soul searching the activist community would (rightly) like to see.

The sooner we can reconcile these two realities the better. And I'm not sure how to do that. I don't know if anyone does.

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