Many promises were made in the 2006 and 2008 elections about how, if only the Democrats could get in charge of the U.S. Congress, the US would finally see the development of legislation to confront the crisis of climate change and make America’s energy infrastructure sustainable. Those promises haven’t brought the kind of action that the scale of our nation’s energy problems demand. This week, the most comprehensive climate and energy legislation to be offered by Democrats so far, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, was released in draft form by congressmen Ed Markey and Henry Waxman… and it falls far short of what we need.
The draft legislation puts heavy emphasis on development of additional production of energy for the United States. Much of this new production will be renewable in nature, but much of it will not. The bill only calls for 25 percent of American energy to come from renewable sources by the year 2025. That means 75 percent of American energy will remain non-renewable, unsustainable, and as dirty as it ever has been. The fact that this requirement is a percent, and not a fixed amount, means that all energy corporations will have to do is increase the total amount of energy being produced, while keeping their old, polluting facilities going. That’s not going to clean up the system.
Imagine our world as a person who has been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. The Markey Waxman draft legislation proposes that, in order to deal with that problem, the person learns to breathe more often, while still smoking two packs of cigarettes every day. The percentage of breaths that contain cigarette smoke will go down, but the amount of cigarette smoke going into the body will not. You get the same pollution to the lungs, but now with hyperventilation.
The bill actually makes it a goal to increase the construction of new coal burning power plants. Under its provisions, new coal burning power plants can be built for the next six years without having any carbon sequestration (“clean coal”) technology at all. The coal companies only have to promise to retrofit those new dirty coal burning plants sixteen years from now. That means that for sixteen years, there will be an increase in carbon emissions, and other air pollution, from coal burning power plants, not a decrease. Furthermore, no one has invented the carbon sequestration retrofits promised in 2025. Ed Markey and Henry Waxman might as well have inserted a provision into their legislation saying, “In 2025, Buck Rogers must deliver a new technology to make it all better.”
Besides that, carbon sequestration only solves part of the problem of coal. The extraction and transportation of coal from the ground to the plants where it is burned is a huge source of pollution. Also, coal burning power plants produce toxic sludge that is stored in giant lagoons that sometimes burst out upon the surrounding towns and countryside. The Markey Waxman legislation does nothing to regulate mining, transportation and waste management related to coal – and in increasing the burning of coal, it actually makes these problems worse.
What’s missing from the American Clean Energy and Security Act is as disturbing as what’s there. The legislation contains no serious plan to enact to enforce energy conservation. It fiddles around the edges with programs to provide the owners of 33 year-old mobile homes with new, more efficient models, to study the replacement of incandescent light bulbs, to change the way that energy consumption of television sets is measured, making new standards for coffeemakers and hot tubs, and creating smart grid energy efficiency models. That’s all nice, but there are no comprehensive measures to initiate serious energy conservation on the part of American homes and businesses.
It’s a hard truth that won’t be politically popular, but Americans cannot go on using as much energy as they have. The Waxman Markey legislation fails to acknowledge that, and so, it fails even to set the goals that we need to save the biosphere from ruin, and establish an economy that can sustain the American people for the next generation.
The legislation proposed by Ed Markey and Henry Waxman is too timid, and too indulgent to the demands of the fossil fuel industries, to succeed.