By David Roswell
Karen Florini ’79 presented an optimistic yet realistic view into federal climate change policy last Thursday in Hallock Auditorium. Speaking in her personal capacity, she outlined how Washington can pass a climate bill in 2010. With confidence, she said that a bill could be passed this year, emphasizing that, “it is hard but there is real hope.”
She started by speaking about the obstacles to passing a climate bill. She first pointed to Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma and his friends such as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and their deep-pocketed partners, Fox News and the Chamber of Commerce; right wing organizations with vested interests in preventing a climate bill. She then spoke about the healthcare bill suffocating Washington, which is preventing anything from moving forwards.
“Cap and trade is dead, and we’re glad,” declared Florini, speaking broadly for environmentalists in Washington. She updated the audience on the Kerry-Boxer bill, which would have mandated a federal, comprehensive cap and trade system, saying it was stuck, with no hope of headway. It would have given a limited and diminishing number of permits to polluters, and allowed trade of these permits between firms.
In lieu of the Kerry-Boxer bill, a new bill, still in its very infant stages, is being co-written by Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts (D), Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (I), and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (R). The bill, still only an unreleased, ten-page document, calls for sector specific caps, beginning with utilities.
This idea has garnered broader support than previous climate bills, with positive responses from vital players, from Senator Baucus, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, to Mary Landrieu of Louisiana (D), who is one of the least environmentally friendly democrats in the senate (and supported by Louisiana gas and oil companies) and even some Republicans.
“If you’re anti-nuke, I’m sorry, get over it,” began Florini’s list of concessions environmentalists will have to make for this, or any other climate bill, to be passed this year, because, “it’s clear that several key Senators are going to need nuclear subsidies in order to be able to vote for climate legislation.” The authors of the bill are also considering offshore drilling opportunities for states to bring in additional revenue.
One of the big challenges for viable legislation is the future of the existing Clean Air Act. After an EPA inquiry found that greenhouse gas emissions pose a threat to human health, the EPA was required to regulate emissions. However, this ruling is being threatened, primarily by Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (R), who has issued a formal resolution of disapproval on the EPA’s endangerment finding. The finding is “a predicate to essentially all regulatory action under the Clean Air Act; if you don’t have a finding, you can’t issue regulations,” explained Florini. If the House adopts this resolution of disapproval, the Clean Air Act will never have regulatory power again. Fortunately, Obama will surely veto it, but the process is eating up time and energy, and diverting focus from the main issues.
Florini presented a laundry list of reasons for hope. Increasing technology, earth day initiatives, and better communication between political figures are all reasons for hope. The support from the Pentagon is also key in making change this year.
Another reason for hope is a bill that is already written. Susan Collins of Maine and Maria Cantwell of Alaska have introduced a cap and dividend bill, with a linkage fee for transportation fuels. This system will auction off permits for utilities to emit greenhouse gases. The revenue generated will be split into two, with 75% going to cash payments to the American people, and the remaining 25% being invested into green energy technology. The linkage fee for transportation will be added on to fuel prices somewhere along the supply chain; the price will be determined by the allowances under the cap.
After the talk, the audience was invited to ask questions. When asked about what scientists should be doing to push policy, Florini said there is no new science that needs to be done to prove to people that climate change is real. What should be done, she said, is a distillation of all of the information for the public down to three key facts: greenhouse gases trap heat, there are more greenhouses gases than before, and the gases are coming from people. However, she pointed out, “If there was a tablet from Moses that said, ‘Here’s how to do climate legislation,’ there would still be vociferous opposition.” When pressed about how environmentalists can win, she said, “We win by fighting.”
Florini ended her talk by outlining its take-home messages. “Climate legislation is hard, there is real hope, and get busy—now.”