Oct 9, 2009

America's Legislative Response to Climate Change(Global Warming)

Obama's top climate and energy official Carol Browner says there's virtually no chance Congress will have a climate bill ready for him to sign before Copenhagen negotiations begin in early December. She said the Senate may be able to complete its hearings on the bill, which along with the EPA's recent moves to regulate greenhouses gases, would at least show the world the US is moving forward.

The crowd cheered at an event before the G20 meeting when Teresa Heinz read a message from husband, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) announcing that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) would introduce a climate bill in the Senate.

Kerry said, "The Bill will have strong, broad coalition backing. It will be a "thoughtful, innovative, far-reaching solution" and "will take a more comprehensive approach to dwindling oil reserves than any prior legislation."

Sounded great, but where's the goods? Thus far, the "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act of 2009" looks much like that approved by the House, except for slightly more aggressive emission cut targets by 2020 - 20%, up from 17% from 2005 levels. Neither target comes close to that demanded by science - 40% below by 1990 levels by 2020. Read the details and environmental NGO reactions.

Like the House bill, the Senate bill would create a national cap-and-trade program, but omits details on how emissions permits would be distributed - an issue of great contention among stakeholders.

The bill includes the creation of emissions standards for commercial airlines. EPA would be required to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to write regulations for new aircraft and engines by the end of 2012.

And it could clear the way for New York City and other metropolitan areas to require conversion of taxi fleets to hybrid and electric vehicles. The Green Taxis Act of 2009 - included in the bill - would allow city governments to set fuel-economy and emissions standards for privately owned taxicabs. Federal courts have twice ruled that New York City's green taxi initiatives were illegal, because only the federal government can set vehicle standards.

According to a New York Times report, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg worked with Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to craft the law and push it into the Senate climate package. Parallel legislation reportedly will be introduced in the House by Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY). Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities have also run into legal roadblocks in building green taxi fleets.

Boxer is expected to use Energy Information Administration (EIA) data showing the U.S. is on track to lower emissions 8.5% below 2005 levels by year end. Much of the decrease is a result of the recession and by some utilities switching to natural gas - still, it shows that reaching a 20% reduction isn't all that difficult. Obama badly needs a climate change bill in his hands when he heads to Copenhagen.

The plan is for a vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee by the end of October. Legislative hearings are expected the week of October 19th followed by mark-up the week of October 26th. Five other committees having jurisdiction over aspects of the bill are: Finance, Foreign Relations, Agriculture, Commerce Science and Transportation, and Energy and Natural Resources.

Once each committee has completed their work, Senate leadership will assemble legislation designed to get the 60 votes necessary to pass a bill on the Senate floor. There could be a floor vote by December, but climate legislation won't be taken up prior to completion of the health care bill.

In the meantime, the EPA is moving ahead to regulate greenhouse emissions through the Clean Air Act.

Harsh Reality

The news comes on the heels of much more dire, depressing forecasts from the United Nations Environment Program. An analysis of the latest, peer-reviewed science concludes our planet could warm by the dreaded 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century unless the world takes immediate, decisive, extremely aggressive action.

Recent research shows exponential change is happening much faster than forecasters anticipated just two years ago. On July 9, the world's top emitting countries - responsible for 75% of global emissions - agreed to limit increases in global warming to 2ÂșC - the upper limit of warming possible to avoid catastrophe. The commitments made thus far will not be enough.

Some progress was made at the G20 summit which recently concluded in Pittsburgh, but most of the attention was on the economy and Iran's nuclear facility. They agreed to phase out subsidies for oil and gas, which would cut worldwide emissions 10%.

Serious commitment about reaching a deal in Copenhagen was in the air, but there's been little headway at the G20 meeting in Bangkok this week. Talks have stalled over the same old speed bumps: emissions targets for advanced nations and adaptation funding for developing nations.

"Progress toward high industrialized world emissions cuts remains disappointing during these talks. We're not seeing real advances there," Yvo de Boer, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told reporters. "Movement on the ways and means and institutions to raise, manage and deploy financing support for the developing world climate action also remains slow."

Next week the talks move to Barcelona. The Copenhagen conference is December 7-18.

from Sustainablebusiness.com 10-2-09 updated 10-6-09

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