Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back: The President and Waxman-Markey
(Photo: Legal Planet [Web], May 8, 2009) Thanks, Humans. If you were here, I'd rip you up and eat you.
[NOTE: This week's banner features former Exxon CEO Lee F. Raymond, and a swimming companion who looks forward to a sizeable meal, because Ol' Lee's a real Fat Boy. Hey; remember when he was awarded a $400 Million-dollar bonus because of Exxon's 'record profits'? At the same time, due to record high prices, older persons in the Northeast couldn't afford to buy heating oil? And when people complained, Ol' Lee's response -- "We're all in this together, everywhere in the world" ?]
In a late session yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey climate change bill (aka the American Climate and Energy Security Act), by a narrow 219 to 212.
The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction. (New York Times)
The heart of Waxman-Markey is "cap-and-trade", a system that sets limits on overall greenhouse gas emissions. Power-generating utilities, manufacturing companies and other pollution emitters would have to pay fines if they release greenhouse gasses above limits set for them. At the same time, they would be allowed to trade "allowances" with each other, which when turned in to the government would reduce or even eliminate those fines they should pay.
In other words, if Exxon is producing more greenhouse gasses at a refinery, they may find it's cheaper to buy 'allowances' offsetting their pollution from Traders -- who list them from other businesses, with fees charged on both sides of the transaction. In a world allegedly ruled by money, there is of course a whole specialty market built around this concept similar to the trading of electric power; other emission allowances have been traded in the same manner for a decade now.
Under Waxman-Markey, the bar for limits on all greenhouse gasses produced in the United States are lowered over time, increasing the penalties for emissions over that limit which (in theory) will prompt all businesses -- in fact, change the habits of our culture -- to think in terms of cleaner ways to produce and use energy.
But, doesn't Exxon's refinery keep belching out greenhouse gasses? Why, of course it does. Will the EPA or another regulatory agency really be able to determine if the businesses whose allowances Exxon purchased to offset their pollution actually reduced their emissions? (Shrugs) Dunno. Will this somehow shame the Chinese government into enacting similar laws, and forestall their rush to become the world's biggest polluter of greenhouse gasses? Ha ha ha, ha ha ha; Dream on, pal...
Having this legislation in place is (according to the Obama administration) necessary as a "first step", showing the rest of the world that we are as serious about the looming challenge of Climate Change as they (well, excepting China) are. Discussions of a new international climate treaty will begin in December, and the general idea of Climate Change will likely be an election issue during the 2010 midterm and 2012 Presidential elections. And, believe it: everyone will claim to Be Green!
However, the usual coalition of Blue Dog Democrats and all Republicans were opposed to Waxman-Markey, or any environmental legislation, because it is just too hard on those poor, defenseless multinational business conglomerates which donate so much money to their campaigns, and feed them chocolates and champagne and whisk them on corporate jets to play golf at private clubs and do bouncy-bouncy with little Fleshpup Bimbettes.
My personal take is that people like these would sell their mothers, to be gangbanged and forced to give blowjobs to donkeys in the slums of Istanbul, for an extra dime of profit or a few-point bump in the polls. So, it's not much of a stretch for them to say, "Wha -- 'Biosphere'? What's in it for me? If it's nothin', then fuck it."
That's an exaggeration, surely, but not by much. Republicans only believe in Drill, Baby, Drill; the evangelicals could care less, as Jesus will be here... oh, any day now; and the Blue Dogs are DINOs (Democrats In Name Only, almost).
The ... legislation, however, will not do what the science says is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change. In fact, House Democrats have worked extensively with the coal industry to edit the bill, which has translated into weakened emissions targets and massive offsets... Instead of leaving coal in the past – as the dirtiest of fossil fuels, ... [that] industry now stands to reap significant rewards from [Waxman-Markey] as it’s currently written.
The President must deliver on his campaign pledge to set climate policy based on science, not politics. Without President Obama’s leadership, corporate polluters will continue to highjack this process and ensure that we continue business as usual...
I feel the President's motives are for change, and against the continuation of policies which enrich a few at the expense of everyone and everything else (the "Lil' Boots" Bush model of government). However, it seems clear to me that he's compromising in this legislation -- as he has with the regulation of America's financial institutions in the wake of The Crash, and quietly abandoning any actual change of Bush's policies on civil liberties, Executive secrecy, communications surveillance programs, and extralegal imprisonment, and (please god; let me be wrong) possibly on Health Care Reform.
The President's desire is to move things forward in a positive direction; I don't doubt his sincerity. Perhaps he believes these first steps will be moved forward in a second Obama administration, or by future Democratic Presidents -- a basis for future change.
However, relying on sincerity without substance is like believing in Santa Claus: Sooner or later, when you learn the truth, you'll be really pissed at having the Reindeer hide pulled over your eyes. Possibly pissed enough to vote for another Lil' Boots Bush -- at least, that's what people like New Gingrich hope for.
I don't know who said that compromises made into bad laws may be worse than no laws at all -- but it's true. And if They didn't say it, then They should have.
Selling the Center may be what the President can be expected to do. It's clear he can move swiftly when situations demand it; but if his idea of change is the half-measure and the backroom deal, when clarity and substance are most desperately needed, then his solutions will not last.
(Full Disclosure: I actively worked in Obama's 2009 camapaign. I still believe he can take the United States to a better place, for everyone. And while I don't agree with some of his decisions to date, or their scope, I'm mindful he's only been in office for six months and a week.)
(Anyone who declares his Presidency a failure, his efforts self-serving, and his choice of dog to reflect a Socialist agenda ought to have their goddamn heads examined. I mean, come on, people.)
I'm reminded of a comment Frederick Douglass once made about Abraham Lincoln, for whom the President has great respect, which I am afraid applies to some of the programs Obama has put forward as well. Douglass was speaking on April 14, 1876, before a crowd in Washington, D.C. (including then-President Ulysses S. Grant) as part of a ceremony dedicating a monument to Lincoln as Emancipator of the slaves.
Douglass didn't pull a single punch in his speech. He said Lincoln (mindful that he was caucasian, and in advance of Franz Fanon noted that hardship experienced as part of a majority bears no resemblance to suffering as a minority) had two missions: To save the United States from coming apart, and to "free his country from the great crime of slavery." To do this, Lincoln had to have "the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow countrymen."
Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible.
Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.
The President is trying to perform just such a balancing act as Lincoln did; and to most people -- the Center -- he appears resolute and decisive. But simply being a more thoughtful, empathetic and intelligent human being than the Guttersnipe who occupied the White House before him isn't going to be enough. To many environmentalists, civil libertarians, and economists, politically-motivated compromises in the face of specific issues do not serve the People or protect future generations.
As regards Climate Change, I don't feel we have as much of a window of time left to affect changes already occurring. We won't be able to stop changes in weather or sea level that are already under way -- but we could still reduce their effects for future generations. The evidence for more serious action than Waxman-Markey is already under our noses.
Thursday night, while walking on the Embarcadero beside the Bay, I noticed that access to landings (spots for windsurfers or kayaks) built ten to fifteen years ago just above the (then) high tide line were blocked off. Barnacles were growing on the lower steps; the steps at the top -- on the same level as the Embarcadero sidewalk -- were damp, because they're inches below the new high-tide line.
I believe compromise, particularly where the environment is concerned, is a serious mistake.
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