Getting down to business

Written by astern


Drafting legislation is often equated with making sausage. The process isn’t pretty, but you have to go through it to get a bill out the other end.

With Congressional prospects for climate legislation better than ever, Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) held a hearing last week on “The Role of Offsets in Climate Legislation.” Markey now chairs a key subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said will be the starting point for a cap-and-trade bill during this session.

The hearing topic might sound rather technical, but about 20 members of Congress, including Reps. John Dingell (D-MI), Rick Boucher (D-VA), and Jay Inslee (D-WA), showed up to listen to the testimony and ask questions. Even the Republicans on the committee (e.g., Fred Upton (R-MI), Joe Barton (R-TX), and Michael Burgess (R-TX)) were engaged. I had the sense that everyone present — climate policy supporters and skeptics alike — were starting to realize that cap-and-trade legislation could very well pass within a year and that they better express their views now.

Parliamentary drama permeated the hearing with some members using the committee forum to allege that offsets were “another Enron waiting to happen,” or “a get-rich scheme for special interests.” But more often than not, the critics would say that if cap-and-trade is going to become law, they want offsets to be real, additional, verified, and permanent.

Congressional members and hearing witnesses cited the recent U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) blueprint as evidence that mainstream corporations see an important role for high-quality offsets. Gary Gero, president of the California Climate Action Reserve (CCAR), was particularly effective at explaining CCAR’s experience with standards and their potential application in a federal offset system. Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, who led the U.S. in climate negotiations at Kyoto, was strong, too, in defending the potential for offsets to contain compliance costs. Stanford Law School Associate Professor Michael Wara criticized the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), but qualified his statement by saying that a credible offset program could be designed in the U.S. Several lawmakers expressed support for creating a special scientific advisory board at EPA to oversee the federal offset system.

The Committee is getting down to the hard work of crafting a passable bill. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who chairs the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he intends to get a bill out of committee by Memorial Day.

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  1. Paul S.

    I agree, but no one will march down that solution path until they are taught (and convinced) that is must happen.
    The first steps to getting any bill thru congress that taxes energy in any way are education, education, and education.
    Republicans are against taxes for reasons I have never quite understood (please some one try to explain why to me, again!) so implementing a totally new tax will meet resistance from nearly 50% of the population.

  2. S. Lee

    By and large, I am in agreement with many of these points. However, getting taxes on energy is going to be an uphill battle. Yes, we need clean mass transit; to do that we will need education cubed as mentioned. A lot of people are in favor, but don’t want to pay the taxes that would be necessary.
    There are other ways to get rid of the dependence on terrorist oil and I recommend reading “Energy Victory” by Robert Zubrin for an excellent exposition on this topic.
    To answer Paul’s question, Republicans see taxes as “government interference in my business”; the wealthier they are, the less they want taxes. Until we can get people to see that taxes can be correctly used for the common good, Republicans will see taxes as “money out of my pocket”. To be fair, not all Republicans have this view; unfortunately we all have a tendency to see taxes on ourselves as unnecessary but necessary for the other fellow. Once again, education cubed.

  3. Paul S.

    What happened to the first post?
    It had lots of good information in it.

  4. Adam Stein

    The first comment was spam. That commenter has posted the same off-topic comment, again and again, on all sorts of different posts over the years. He’s been asked to stop.

  5. G. Atcheson

    Its not so much “money out of my pocket” as opposition to redistribution of wealth, which is mean/unfair and penalizes success. But that is personal income tax, and the cap-and-trade is a business tax.
    Republicans tend to oppose business taxes because people want to pile them on because they are usually seen as no-cost. But taxes on businesses reduce the jobs they can create and stifle innovation. As an extreme example, who is going to hire people and develop better solar cells if the government taxes away all profits?
    But in spite of the dangers of taxing corporations, it seems like a carefully implemented cap-and-trade system would reduce the damage to the environment without causing undue harm to corporations. It is actually much less costly (across an industry) to use cap-and-trade than just slapping limits.