Health Care Uproar Drowns Out Global Warming
WASHINGTON - The August uproar over health care reform almost muted public discourse over global warming, a climate phenomenon that holds serious implications for the nation.
But the health care din hasn't quelled the fight among supporters and opponents of a House bill dealing with energy and climate change as combatants anticipate consideration of a similar proposal in the Senate.
The central goal of the House bill is a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, based on 2005 levels. Scientists say those emissions - carbon dioxide is the most prevalent - are warming the Earth and, if unchecked, could lead to catastrophic environmental consequences.
The impact could be particularly harsh on the Midwest, where the combined emissions from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin would make the region the world's fourth-biggest polluter if it were a nation, according to a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
To reach its goal, the House bill would establish a cap-and-trade system in which polluters could buy credits from non-polluters. The House bill, authored by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Edward Markey, D-Mass., also would require large utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity through renewable fuels, including biomass, geothermal, solar and wind.
In recent weeks, opponents of the House measure, including the oil lobby, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Federation of Independent Business, ignited a campaign in the Mountain West and Midwest protesting that the House legislation would be a job killer.
A recent study by NAM and the American Council for Capital Formation concluded the U.S. would lose 2.4 million jobs by 2030 and up to $3.1 trillion in gross domestic product under the Waxman-Markey bill.
"At a time when our country is struggling to come out of our longest and deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, lawmakers should be focused on policies that provide incentives for businesses so they can create jobs and grow," said Jay Timmons, executive vice president of NAM.
Environmental and labor groups have countered with a "Made in America" tour to highlight the green jobs they say would be created. The Blue Green Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental organizations, cite recent studies showing 1.7 million jobs could be created with a $150 billion investment in clean energy.
"Passing comprehensive clean energy and climate change legislation is the quickest and most effective way to create millions of jobs building the clean energy economy, which is why it is imperative that the Senate act to pass this legislation this year," said David Foster, the alliance's executive director.
While cap-and-trade has been the major point of contention, environmentalists and some energy industry groups are pushing for a Senate bill that would have a stronger renewable-electricity standard than what Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has proposed. His bill calls for utilities to generate 3 percent of their electricity from renewables in 2011, increasing incrementally to 12 percent by 2020.
During testimony in July before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, John Krenicki, vice chairman of GE and president and CEO of GE Energy Infrastructure, told lawmakers that without a stronger renewable electricity standard, the U.S. would lose manufacturing and technology expertise in wind energy, for example, to countries overseas. Krenicki said the U.S. wind energy industry already is seeing a slowdown in new development compared to its watermark year of 2008, when more than 8.5 gigawatts of wind power capacity was added.
"Without a significantly higher (renewable energy) target for 2012, the federal government will be offering long-term support to an industry with no long-term furture," Krenicki said.
Krenicki and others are hoping Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduces a bill this month that has a stronger renewable electricity standard. President Barack Obama has called for a standard of 25 percent by 2025.
"The game is not lost," said Liz Salerno, director of industry data and analysis for the American Wind Energy Association. "There still is opportunity in the Senate to strengthen the bill."
Daniel Weiss, a climate and energy expert with the Center for American Progress, said he is optimistic that Congress will pass a bill before the year ends. But he acknowledges some "political skittishness about acting at all" in the Senate.
"A lot of senators reacted somewhat negatively to the House bill without knowing what was in it," Weiss said. A big reason, he said, is "the same people screaming about 'death panels' earlier in the summer were screaming about 'cap and tax.'"