Blast from the Past: Romm’s Critique of the Waxman-Markey Blueprint

Here is Joseph Romm of ClimateProgress writing about the United States Climate Action Partnership proposal in January 2009. Despite Romm's assertions that this proposal was a "dead end ... obsolete and irrelevant," the Blueprint for Legislation Action developed by USCAP, a coalition of major corporations and DC-based green groups, went on to form the framework of the Waxman-Markey climate bill. That bill went on to pass the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2009 with all of the features Romm criticized here still intact: a "lame" 2020 emissions target of 83% of 2005 levels undermined by 2 billion tons of "rip-offsets" permitted each year; new conventional coal plants permitted if they are "capture ready" and able to install CCS technology by 2025; and the majority of cap and trade allowances given away for free. Joe Romm went on to be one of the Waxman-Markey bill's loudest champions. But here's a 'blast from the past' to consider as we take a look at a new bill emerging in the U.S. Senate (emphasis in the original).

I think it is absurd for any serious environmental group to support permitting new coal plants that don't capture and store the vast majority of their emissions. Yet as the WashPost reports:

"The plan would also require any coal plant permitted after Jan. 1, 2015, to emit no more than half the carbon dioxide emissions now considered normal and require any newly permitted plant today to have the ability to be retrofitted to meet that standard."

These are bogus provisions. Nobody really knows what a capture-ready plant design is -- this is the climate equivalent of "the check is in the mail." ...

But it is the 2020 target and the issue of rip-offsets that make this proposal truly untenable. The Blueprint calls for requiring that U.S. greenhouse gases (GHGs) return to "80%-86% of 2005 levels by 2020." That is essentially returning to 1990 levels, which the science clearly says is inadequate to stabilizing at 450 ppm, let alone the 350 ppm target that environmental groups should be seriously considering ...

But the already-lame USCAP proposal shoots itself in the (other) foot with its embrace of a staggering amount of rip-offsets. ...

Shame on my NRDC and EDF and WRI friends for signing on to such nonsense. . .

But the unconscionable amount of rip-offsets USCAP embraces guts the entire effort. ...

The USCAP plan would call for a reduction of 1.0 to 1.4 billion tons of U.S. GHGs in 2020, while allowing 2 billion or more tons of offsets, at least half of which don't even have to be in this country. When would US carbon dioxide emissions see serious reductions under this plan? Who knows? It's déja vu all over again (see "Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill update: Probably no U.S. CO2 emissions cut until after 2025").

Let me repeat once more, as a major 2008 analysis from Stanford found

... "between a third and two thirds" of emission offsets under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) -- set up under the Kyoto treaty to encourage emissions reductions in developing nations -- do not represent actual emission cuts."

And this led to the study's stark conclusion:

"... any offset market of sufficient scale to provide substantial cost-control for a cap-and-trade program will involve substantial issuance of credits that do not represent real emissions reductions....."

...The USCAP proposal has other features that are problematic. For instance, "USCAP recommends that a significant portion of allowances should be initially distributed free to capped entities...." Again, Obama himself has called for a 100% auction. As the Friends of the Earth response to USCAP says:

"Put simply, the proposal would reward corporate polluters with hundreds of billions of dollars of giveaways, and its near-term pollution reduction targets are far weaker than what scientists have called for. The proposal is further weakened by its massive carbon offset loopholes. Were such a proposal to be enacted into law, it would fail to achieve the emission reductions we need in the U.S. and would undermine our ability to meaningfully and credibly engage in international climate negotiations. This is a dead-end approach that policymakers should reject."


This proposal is a dead end -- and an even deader starting point. Shame on NRDC, EDF, and WRI for backing it.

To head-off concerns that Joe Romm's comments have been taken out of context, we encourage readers to view Romm's full critique of the USCAP proposal here.