September 10, 2008
Joe Romm Tries to Shut Down Climate Bill Debate by Attacking Breakthrough Institute
Breakthrough Institute spent the past week analyzing the Waxman-Markey climate bill. We released several objective and transparent analyses for the benefit of our readers, exploring the allocation of allowances and the use of offsets in an effort to illuminate some of the weaknesses and strengths of the bill. This analysis was cited by Time Magazine, National Public Radio, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal.
For the record, Breakthrough Institute has a long history of advocating progressive climate and energy policy (see our history). In 2003, Michael and Ted co-founded the Apollo Alliance, the first-ever public campaign calling for a $300 billion federal investment in clean energy. In 2005, former Senator Obama introduced a proposal co-written by Breakthrough to raise fuel efficiency standards, "Healthcare for Hybrids." In 2007, the Obama campaign adopted a $150 billion clean energy investment platform based on Breakthrough's recommendations. And in April 2009, the Obama administration adopted Breakthrough's proposal for a National Energy Education Act. Throughout this time we have continually advocated (see our writing page) a national approach on climate change and clean energy capable of achieving the broad transformations we need.
To support his assertion that Breakthrough's analysis of Waxman-Markey is anti-environmental and anti-climate-action, Romm raises two criticisms. First, he claims we misrepresent the bill's offset provisions. He states, "[the Breakthrough Institute] analysis is devoid of any analysis -- or understanding -- of the offset market... it is clear that the offset provisions in Waxman-Markey do not vitiate the targets. Indeed, I have previously explained why the supply of domestic offsets provision does not undermine the target." This comes after Romm's long effort to "debunk" carbon offsets as a legitimate climate mitigation strategy, coining the term "rip-offsets."
Breakthrough's analysis is unrelated to the use of domestic offsets, which is clear from a brief reading of our posts. Our findings relate to the use of international offsets and their potential impact on U.S. emissions. Jesse Jenkins states, "the use of international offsets would allow U.S. emissions to continue at up to 1.5 billion tons higher than the emissions reduction path intended by the bill." This analysis can be viewed here and downloaded here, and we encourage our readers to take a look and offer feedback. In order for this scenario not to occur, several contingencies must prove true:
(1) The opportunities to reduce emissions in "capped" sectors must be more affordable than paying for international offsets; (2) Offsets must not be readily available at the scale permitted by the bill and the cost of reducing emissions in capped sectors does not trigger the release of additional emissions from the strategic reserve pool; (3) Emission reductions must be driven by factors other than the cap and trade mechanism, for example, by the complementary measures contained in the bill, by other policies, or by macroeconomic factors.
Each of these contingencies is uncertain, complex, and subject to debate. Our analysis intends to reveal an outcome in which these contingencies do not prove true. Romm may claim this exercise is anti-environmental and anti-climate-action, however, given the importance of rapidly reducing U.S. emissions, we are committed to a transparent discussion about the possibilities of the legislation.
Romm's second criticism regards a carbon pricing scenario contained in Michael and Ted's recent piece in Yale Environment 360. Michael and Ted wrote, "If the price of carbon dioxide is only $5 per ton -- a level Waxman-Markey supporters like the Center for American Progress's Joe Romm says it could reach -- there would be just $3 billion for energy technology and just $250 million for R&D." Romm doesn't deny his prediction that the bill would result in a $5-10 per ton price, however, he attacks this as a misrepresentation because the price will "rise quickly after 2020." In fact, the majority of Breakthrough's analysis assumes an average allowance price of $10 to $15 between 2012-2025, consistent with the EPA (see here and here). However, given the critical nature of large-scale federal investments in clean energy, we believe it is important to consider all scenarios under this bill. (Note: the latest version of the bill, released after Michael and Ted's article went to publication, contains a price floor of $10 for these allowances.)
We have documented Romm's histrionics and misrepresentations several times, as well as his incorrect views on energy technology. Those readers interested in reviewing this debate can do so here. In this post, Romm also lists some of his previous blogs about Breakthrough and criticizes Michael and Ted's other recent writing. For the benefit of our readers, below we correct Romm's major misrepresentations step-by-step.
Romm's attempt to shut down serious debate about critical climate legislation -- and his aggressive effort to attack and discredit those attempting to illuminate the bill's weaknesses, including reputable environmental activists and reporters -- should raise questions about his role as a credible and progressive climate advocate. And whether the Center for American Progress continues to tolerate his behavior may have a lasting impact on its credibility as one of the nation's largest progressive think tanks.
Corrections to Romm's May 22, 2009 post, "Memo to media: Don't be suckered by bad analyses from the Breakthrough Institute the way Time, WSJ, NPR, and The New Republic have been"
(#1) Romm: "They attacked President Obama's cap-and-trade climate plan as political suicide and doomed to fail, 18 months after endorsing the plan -- heck, they said it was their plan all along."
Fact: Breakthrough never suggested that Obama's cap and trade plan was political suicide. We said his threat to mandate significant emissions reductions through Clean Air regulations that would drive up energy prices was political suicide. The threat has in fact proven empty, with Obama, Congressional leaders, and regulated industries all agreeing to pass cap and trade legislation that mandates no substantial reductions in carbon emissions for two decades and places severe limits on how much energy prices may rise.
What Breakthrough said:
"Still, most greens were heartened after the White House announced plans to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. But the threat to regulate CO2 will ultimately run into the same political constraints that have hamstrung efforts to cap carbon emissions in the U.S. Congress. The Obama administration is unlikely to propose regulations that will significantly increase energy prices in key political battleground states, at least not in his first term. And subsequent administrations are no more likely to propose or stand behind unpopular regulations that will raise energy prices than will the Obama administration. As such, the threat to regulate CO2 will likely prove empty -- a gesture to environmental supporters and the international community that Obama is serious about climate change, but unlikely to result in substantial reductions in U.S. carbon emissions or break the current gridlock in Congress."
(#2) Romm: "So it is perhaps not surprising that 18 months after I got them to strongly and publicly endorse Obama's cap-and-trade plan, they have launched a series of attacks on it -- attacks based on misrepresentation and misanalysis."
Fact: Breakthrough endorsed Obama's energy plan, which called for $15 billion annual investments in clean technology, far reaching renewable portfolio and efficiency standards, and a 100% auction with no price caps, not a cap and trade system that gives away the mass majority of allowances for free, allows emissions from regulated sectors of the economy to rise for two decades, guts renewable energy requirements, and includes little public funding for clean energy research and development or deployment.
What Breakthrough said in 2007:
"Romm asks if we embrace Obama's plan. Not only do we embrace it, we've been advocating such a plan since 2002. In the run up to the 2004 presidential elections we aggressively lobbied the Kerry campaign for such investments and were repeatedly rebuffed by his environmental policy and political advisers who claimed, similar to Romm, that major public investments weren't a priority.
Obama's energy plan, like the plan that we outline below, recognizes the need for regulatory standards and a cap on emissions. But these are positions he has long held -- last January he co-sponsored a cap and trade bill in the Senate. What was new about Obama's plan announced Monday was the large public investment. Obama's proposed clean energy investment is not only larger than anything proposed by the other Democratic Presidential candidates, it is much larger than anything lobbied for by the national environmental lobby in Washington. It goes half way toward the at least $300 billion we need to achieve the emissions reductions and clean energy price reductions we need."
(#3) Romm: "They utterly... missrepresent the findings of the International Energy Agency, McKinsey, and the Stern Review"
Fact: Breakthrough has repeatedly documented how Romm's views on energy technology stand in opposition to the majority of energy and climate experts. As we wrote last month:
"Romm has recycled his assertions that no new technological development (beyond very minor improvements to existing technologies) is necessary to tackle the massive global energy and climate challenge. He repeats his efforts to label those who call attention to the scale and urgency of our energy innovation challenge and advocate major investments in energy technology as "climate delayer-equivalents." And Romm does so at the exact same time as he plainly ignores -- one might say, denies -- the wide body of evidence and expert consensus that dramatic innovation to spur both incremental and transformative developments in a whole suite of clean energy technologies is critical if we hope to overcome the climate and energy challenge and preserve a prosperous global society."
(#4) Romm: "[The Breakthrough Institute] has recently written two attacks on Waxman-Markey, "The Flawed Logic of The Cap-and-Trade Debate," which attacks any effort to significantly raise the price of carbon pollution through a tax or a cap."
Fact: We endorsed low and sustainable carbon prices in the Yale article, as we have since 2007. We criticized the policy advocacy framework -- such as that which led to Waxman-Markey -- which continues to rely upon the implementation of high carbon prices in the face of overwhelming evidence that no political economy in the world has been willing or able to maintain high carbon prices.
What Breakthrough said:
"The problem is that no government in the world so far has been willing to establish and sustain a high price on carbon, whether through taxes or caps... Rather than attempting to establish high carbon prices globally in order to create sufficient incentives for private interests to invest in energy technology innovation, this new framework focuses on establishing very modest and politically sustainable carbon prices in developed economies to fund very large public investments in technology innovation and to help bring competitive technologies to market...
Far better to accept that the price for carbon won't be high and implement a simple and transparent program to establish a stable and low price. Such an approach is compatible with either a carbon tax or cap-and-auction with hard price caps and floors... It is time that we get serious about how to achieve deep reductions in emissions with the low carbon price we will get rather than the high carbon price we may wish for... the alternative is another decade of attempting to implement policy predicated on high carbon prices without the necessary price signal for those policies to have any chance of succeeding."
See here for more information about Joe Romm and our ongoing debate.