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Chelsea Green Blog on the good climate policy bandwagon (mostly)

A friend of mine, who knows from my own previous email missives that there are important things afoot in Congress regarding pending legislation on global warming, forwarded me this message from

From: Ilyse Hogue, Political Action
Sent: Tue, 30 Oct 2007 12:23 pm
Subject: Corporate windfall or clean energy economy

Click here to add your name: “Any climate legislation that gives ‘pollution credits’ away for free means windfall profits for big polluters. Congress should ensure that corporations pay taxpayers for these credits. The money raised should help develop clean energy sources and support the workers and consumers affected by the shift to clean energy.”

Sign the petition

Dear MoveOn member,
We’ve got good news and bad. The good news is after years of inaction, things are finally moving on the global warming front.

The bad news is the bill won’t solve global warming, but it will give polluting companies billions in windfall profits. The bill creates a system where polluters spend ‘credits’ for every ton of greenhouse gas they produce. If you want to pollute more, you need more credits. If companies buy their credits from the government, we’ll have billions of dollars to invest in solar and wind energy. And by limiting the number of credits available, we can reduce greenhouse gases. But this bill gives most of the credits away for free to the biggest polluters[1]—who can sell them off for massive credits. [“massive credits” is clearly a typo–they must have meant “massive profits.” –Jonathan]

This plan will be a huge windfall for corporations, and it won’t solve global warming. We’ve got to act now—Congress is finishing a draft of the bill in the next few days. And many members of Congress think no one will notice this corporate giveaway. We want to get 100,000 voices to Congress to prove them wrong. Can you sign our petition? It says:

“Any climate legislation that gives ‘pollution credits’ away for free means windfall profits for big polluters. Congress should ensure that corporations pay taxpayers for these credits. The money raised should help develop clean energy sources and support the workers and consumers affected by the shift to clean energy.” Clicking below adds your name to the petition:
It’s looks pretty likely that some kind of pollution credit system will be created soon, because so many folks want action on climate change. Polluting industries have seen the writing on the wall—that’s why they’re lobbying to turn the system into a massive program of corporate subsidies.

Their plan—giving away the credits for free to big polluters—punishes new companies and companies who got a jump on cleaning up their act.

On the other hand, an auction makes sure that everyone plays fair by charging them equally to pollute. And, at the same time, it raises money to help pay for America’s transition to a clean energy economy. This approach is called “cap and auction” and a bunch of the Presidential candidates have already endorsed it. Senator Obama was the most recent to come out in support of auctioning pollution credits—joining Dodd, Richardson and Edwards.[2] The momentum behind the auction system is why industry’s advocates are rushing to push a plan through now—before we have a new president and Congress that will do it the right way. We can’t afford to make this mistake. There are literally billions of dollars at stake. A cap and auction system of pollution credits would generate anywhere from $50 to $150 billion—money we need to ease the transition to a environmentally-friendly economy. The money is there. If we want it to benefit all Americans, and not just big corporations, we’ve got to speak up now. Clicking below adds your name to the petition:
Thanks for all you do.
–Ilyse, Wes, Natalie, Daniel, and the Political Action Team
Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

1.”Cap and trade bill is second rate,” LA Times, October 25, 2007,0,6658349.story?coll=la-opinion-leftrail
2.”In Obama’s world, polluters must pay,” LA Times, October 8, 2007,1,7945139.story?coll=la-news-politics-national
Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Kudos to for bringing this issue to the attention of its members. They’re mostly right: the current bills working their way through the Senate all either require the vast majority of pollution credits to be given for free to the polluting corporations or leave that decision up to the EPA administrator. Not only does this make for hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in freebie money for the corporations, it will totally undermine the long-term viability of climate policy. The best analysis of all this comes from Peter Barnes, author of Who Owns the Sky? and Capitalism 3.0, and soon to be a Chelsea Green author with his forthcoming Climate Solutions: A Citizen’s Guide. Climate Solutions explains the pros and cons of all the basic forms of policy the government can take in dealing with global warming and, among other things, shows why a policy that includes give-aways to the corporations will not succeed in reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades. However, a well-designed policy can both successfully reduce emissions for the long-haul and simultaneously reduce poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor without resorting to welfare, but by treating every American as an equal partner in the “ownership” of our common atmosphere. The full book includes more background and is worth the wait, but you can get a taste of his argument now in this free booklet put out by

So why do I say that only mostly gets this issue right? Cuz they rightly disapprove of emission credit giveaways, but they don’t go quite far enough when they support a “cap-and-auction” plan. The kind of cap-and-auction plan most likely to pushed in Congress will have all the money from the auction go to the government. Sure, it could do some good things there, like help pay for research into renewable energy and pay for building the new infrastructure some of those energies will require. But, frankly, Congress already spends way too much money subsidizing fossil fuels, and if they want to support renewables more, all they need to do is switch those existing subsidies over from the dinosaurs to green power. Meanwhile, whatever the details of a climate policy, it will lead to rising energy costs for everyone. That’s why, instead of the money from an auction going to the government, those revenues should go back out to the people to help them deal with the rising costs. The incentive for people to become more conservative and efficient in their energy use will still exist, but no one has to be left out totally in the cold in the process. Barnes explains it all better than I can, so check out his pdf booklet and stay tuned for Climate Solutions.

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