Climate Bill Backlash

The American Clean Energy and Security Act would improve the infrastructure for electric cars like this Tesla Roadster Sport.©

There was some excitement in environmental circles last week over the passing of The American Clean Energy and Security Act by the House Energy and Commerce Committee—but it certainly wasn"t unanimous. Sponsored by Chairman Henry A. Waxman and Subcommittee Chairman Edward J. Markey, it"s the first clean energy bill to pass a congressional committee in the nation"s history. The legislation would limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and put a cap-and-trade system in place in which the most polluting industries have to buy credits from less polluting companies to meet federal standards. It requires industries to meet 6% of their load with electricity from renewable resources and electricity savings by 2012, increasing to 20% in 2020. There are measures for an electrical vehicle infrastructure and measures to advance the nation"s smart grid so that those electric cars can plug in and actually provide power. And the bill would reduce U.S. emissions 80% by 2020.

Many environmental groups are thrilled to see serious climate legislation under consideration. The League of Conservation Voters called it a "historic" bill and promised to help get it passed. The World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C. think-tank, applauded committee members and called it "a crucial first step in the U.S. legislative journey." And the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) called the bill "a major step forward." More specifically, says SEIA’s press release: " this bill stimulates deployment of solar energy by allocating carbon allowances for renewable energy and energy efficiency, applying triple renewable energy credits (REC"s) for distributed generation (like solar), including solar water heating systems…"

But the American Wind Energy Association says the Renewable Energy Standard set by this legislation will not keep jobs in U.S. borders. A letter put out by the group warned that "America is on the verge of losing the wind manufacturing industry to Asia and Europe [because] America trails its competition in passing stable renewable energy policy commitments. Thirty-seven other countries have firm commitments." AWEA wants to see an RES of 25% by 2025.

And some green groups think the bill"s too soft, too. Friends of the Earth, a grassroots environmental activist network expressed disappointment following the May 21st committee vote. "What should be a momentous occasion for all of us is, instead, a huge letdown," they write. They argue that the bill"s carbon reduction targets are too low, that corporate polluters would be given handouts to transition to clean energy and allowed offset loopholes in the meantime. The bill still has several committee panels to pass before being voted on by the full House.

CONTACTS: The American Clean Energy and Security Act; American Wind Energy Association; Friends of the Earth; League of Conservation Voters; Solar Energy Industries Association; World Resources Institute