Sunday, June 24, 2007

Tom Friedman on the Senate-Passed Energy Bill

The Senate passed an energy bill, and the surprise is that the Senate ultimately did not cave into the automobile industry and the coal industry as many had expected. But as Tom Friedman points out, this is damning by faint praise. The bill is hardly a serious plan to confront climate change:

The whole Senate energy effort only reinforced my feelings that we’re in a green bubble — a festival of hot air by the news media, corporate America and presidential candidates about green this and green that, but, when it comes to actually doing something hard to bring about a green revolution at scale — and if you don’t have scale on this you have nothing — we wimp out. Climate change is not a hoax. The hoax is that we are really doing something about it.

No question, it’s great news that the Democrat-led Senate finally stood up to the automakers, and to the Michigan senators, and said, “No more — no more assisted suicide of the U.S. auto industry by the U.S. Congress. We’re passing the first bill since 1975 that mandates an increase in fuel economy.” If the Senate bill, which now has to go through the House, becomes law, automakers will have to boost the average mileage of new cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, compared with about 25 miles per gallon today.

But before you celebrate, pay attention to some fine print in the Senate bill. If the Transportation Department determines that the fuel economy goal for any given year is not “cost-effective” — that is, too expensive for the car companies to meet — it can ease the standard. That loophole has to be tightened by the House, which takes up this legislation next week.

But even this new mileage standard is not exactly world leading. The European Union is today where we want to be in 2020, around 35 miles per gallon, and it is committed to going well over 40 m.p.g. by 2012. Ditto Japan.

There are other things that make the Senate energy effort ugly. Senate Republicans killed a proposed national renewable electricity mandate that would have required utilities to produce 15 percent of their power from wind, solar, biomass and other clean-energy sources by 2020. Twenty-three states already have such mandates. No matter. Making it national was too much for the Republicans.

And the Senate, thanks again to the Republicans, also squashed a Democratic proposal to boost taxes on oil and gas companies that would have raised some $32 billion for alternative fuel projects.

Despite all the new research on climate change, the Senate didn’t even touch the idea of either a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax to limit carbon dioxide emissions. An effort by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota to legislate a national reporting (“carbon counter”) system to simply measure all sources of greenhouse gas emissions, which would enable a cap-and-trade system to work if we ever passed one, also got killed by Republicans. We can’t cap and trade something we can’t measure.

Here is the truth: the core of our energy crisis is in Washington. We have all the technology we need right now to make huge inroads in becoming more energy efficient and energy independent, with drastically lower emissions. We have all the capital we need as well. But because of the unique nature of the energy and climate-change issues — which require incentives and regulations to build alternatives to dirty, but cheap, fossil fuels — you need public policy to connect the energy and capital the right way. That is what has been missing.


Read it all (subscription required).

Sounds like it is time to write our Representatives in Congress to urge them to get serious about climate change.

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