July 25, 2008
Senators: Climate Bill Should Support Clean Energy Manufacturing
By Juliana Williams, Breakthrough Fellow
Thursday, 10 Senate Democrats sent a letter to the President Obama outlining their position on upcoming climate policy. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Robert P. Casey (D-PA), Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), Arlen Specter (D-PA), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), and Al Franken (D-MN) voiced their position to make sure that effective climate policy both reduces emissions and strengthens American manufacturing. The letter's signatories want U.S. climate policy to:
- Include transition assistance as factories become more efficient and as they retool to make clean energy products in a more efficient way;
- Set negotiating objectives around manufacturing that the U.S. can take to the Copenhagen climate negotiations in December;
- Establish mechanisms to verify emissions reductions and hold countries accountable for meeting their goals; and
- Establish a border adjustment (fee) on goods from countries with less rigorous climate provisions.
The New York Times headline editors were quick to ominously label the letter a "threat" to the passage of a climate bill, but that is hardly the case. This letter was not an ultimatum stating opposition to climate legislation, or even to the Waxman-Markey bill in particular. The letter states the Senator's support for climate action and provides a forum for addressing their clearly stated concerns that if anything, should enable the design of an effective and passable bill. If these critical swing Senators remain "a threat" to climate legislation, it is more due to failure of creative policy design than the evil machinations of industry-funded hacks from coal states. So before we vilify these ten Senators - every one of whom is likely necessary to secure passage of any climate or energy legislation - let's take a close look at what they are actually saying...
"short-term transition assistance in the form of rebates provided to energy-intensive and trade-exposed industries"
While it's unclear whether this is calling for additional emissions allowances for energy intensive industries, the simple fact is that energy is a primary input to our entire economy, making energy costs a major political and economic sensitivity. This is most pronounced in states reliant on coal for their electricity mix and/or reliant on energy-intensive industries for their economy (e.g. the states whose senators signed this letter). That's the simple reality of climate politics. It's long past time to internalize that and pursue good policy design that can still succeed in that political environment. Good climate policy should be able to support manufacturing in the clean energy economy. Let's make sure the details of policy design match the "green jobs" messaging.
"negotiating objectives requiring any international agreement to address manufacturing competiveness"
Makes sense that we should know what we're asking for as the U.S. negotiating team heads into Copenhagen this December. After all, the Senate is the body to ratify any international climate treaty, so we may as well know where they stand. Manufacturing competitiveness will be a hot-button issue in the clean energy race and in the international negotiations. Let's have that discussion about what the U.S. wants.
"effective means to measure, monitor, verify, and hold countries accountable for emissions reductions"
Jeez, that's threatening. Let's make sure everyone is doing what they say they will (including the U.S).
"policies that promote investments in energy efficient and clean technology manufacturing and help the sector retool for the clean energy economy"
Let's see, they want to invest in the transition of our manufacturing sector to run on (and use less) clean energy while producing the goods needed to transition the rest of the economy to clean energy. Sounds pretty smart to me. After all, how can we expect to meet emissions targets anyway if no one is making clean energy products? This of course will be one of the most important factors in building support from industrial states and passing the Sherrod Brown Test.
Now, the last part of the letter gets a little tricky:
"a border measure could help to prevent countries from responding to climate change less rigorously than the United States and undercutting the effectiveness of our climate policy by shifting, rather than reducing, greenhouse gas emissions"
While a border measure would help maintain American competitiveness, it is a sure-fire way to generate opposition from China and India. Andrew Revkin, also from the New York Times, noted, "On the treaty front, the Senate will surely be seeking measurable, verifiable and substantial steps by the big developing countries. At the same time, China, India and other economic competitors are not likely to be in an agreeable mood at treaty talks in Copenhagen in December if faced with protectionist steps in the United States."
So where does this leave us? Well, for one, these Senators want to see climate policy that reduces emissions, they want to transition the industries in their states to the clean energy economy and they want to make sure emissions are actually being reduced they way other countries (and ours) say they will. On the other hand, their position on border measures might create significant resistance in the international negotiations. Regardless, these Senators are providing a forum to design effective climate policy that both reduces emissions and invests in the American-made clean energy economy.
"Climate change is a reality and the world cannot afford inaction. However, we must not engage in a self-defeating effort that displaces greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing them and displaces U.S. jobs rather than bolstering them."
Jobs and manufacturing are not the enemy of the environment - how long will it take for the climate movement to accept their own messaging?