Weekly Mulch: Why the Senate Climate Bill is Doomed

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), though down one man, finally released their stab at climate legislation this week. One of the most crucial sections in the bill covers off-shore oil drilling, an issue that was supposed to help solve the tricky math of reaching 60 votes. But since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling has become a wedge issue.

Just a few weeks ago, off-shore drilling could have been a point of compromise around which Senators could rally votes to pass the climate bill; now the bill had to strike a new balance to mollify both potential allies who oppose drilling, like Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and those who support drilling, like Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The draft that Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman released this week allows for expanded drilling but gives states veto power over new projects.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who worked on the bill, said that he had not seen the changes his two colleagues had made since he dropped out of the drafting process—but he looked forward to reviewing their work. Although Sen. Kerry says he thinks the bill can pass,  without support from Sen. Graham or another Republican, chances are slim.

Next steps

Now that the two Senators have released the bill, the only work that remains is to pass it.

“I think climate change legislation is dead,” writes Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. His explanation:

“There’s not enough time for a bill to go through the committee process, get passed by the Senate, sent to conference, amended, and then passed by the full Congress before the midterms, and after the midterms Democrats will probably be reduced to 53 or 54 members in the Senate.”

Not everyone agrees that the bill’s chance are so dire, though.

“I think the chances are roughly as good as they’ve ever been in the Senate: low but non-trivial,” says Grist’s David Roberts.

Kerry’s argument

But should green-minded politicos root for the bill’s passage at all? Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman worked closely with energy companies while drafting the bill, and the resulting legislation balances the need to reduce carbon emissions with the interests of prime polluters. The bill includes incentives for old energy industries like coal and natural gas, for instance, and exempts farmers from carbon caps.

On Wednesday, Sen. Kerry made his case to left-leaning environmentalists. “A comprehensive climate bill written purely for you and me — true believers — can’t pass the Senate no matter how hard or passionate I fight on it,” he wrote for Grist. The bill they have, he wrote, can pass, and that victory outweighs the compromises in the legislation.

Responses from the left

On Democracy Now!, Phil Radford, the executive director of GreenPeace USA, said that most environmental groups have given the bill little more than a “tepid endorsement.” Radford squared off on the show with Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress, who supports the bill.

“This will be the first bill ever passed by the Senate, if it were to pass, that would put us on a path to get off of fossil fuels,” Romm said.

The two men were also divided over issues like the impact the climate bill could have on international negotiations.

They agreed, though, there is room for improvement; the only question is whether the politics of climate change will allow for the passage of a stronger bill any times soon. As Kevin Drum wrote, “If you think this year’s bills are watered down, just wait until you see what a Congress with a hair-thin Democratic majority produces.”

Coal and natural gas

Tripping up environmentalists now, though, are the hand-outs to dirty energy industries. The coal and natural gas industry could both benefit from the provisions of the Senate bill, for instance.

On GritTV, Jeff Biggers, a writer and educator who covers the coal industry, explained his frustration:

“The climate bill is a nice first step and a very well meaning effort for someone like Sen. Kerry who’s been working on this issue for 20 years. But at the same time, because of the massive big coal lobby that has poured millions of dollars into lobbying congress on this climate legislation…there are all sorts of little panders and loopholes and exemptions.”

“What we see in this bill is that Sen. Kerry and Lieberman want to ensure coal’s future,” he said.

The booming natural gas industry also had a hand in shaping the bill and benefited from it. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club favor natural gas as an energy source over coal, and as Kari Lydersen reports in Working In These Times, the industry is driving job growth at a time when the economy needs a boost.

But as Alex Halperin reported last month for The American Prospect, in the places where drilling is occurring, like Ithaca, NY, activists are arguing that the environmental risks could outweigh those economic benefits.

Drill or be drilled

That devil’s bargain—risking natural resources for jobs in the energy industry—went the wrong way for the Gulf Coast, and states like Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida are paying the price even before the oil hits shore.

As I report in AlterNet, the Gulf’s economy could lose billions of dollars and is suffering already from the misconception that its beaches are tarred with oil. With this catastrophe still fresh in voters’ minds, the Senate climate bill proposes pushing new drilling initiatives 75 miles offshore and giving affected states veto power over these projects.

Depending on how long the memory of the Deepwater Horizon spill lasts, politicians could have a good reason to veto drilling. Public News Service reports that 55% of Floridians now oppose off-shore drilling, “almost a complete reversal from one year ago.”

Blame game

Certainly no one is stepping up to take responsibility for the explosion off the coast of Louisiana, as the Washington Independent reports. At a hearing this week, officials from British Petroleum, which was operating the well, Transocean, which owns it, and Halliburton, which was doing contract work that may have caused the problem, all denied wrongdoing and pressed the blame on each other.

It’s starting to look Halliburton played a key part. “The focus is increasingly shifting to the role of Halliburton, which poured the cement for the rig, as well as for another operation that spilled oil off the coast of Australia last August,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. The company apparently did not place a cement plug that would have kept gas in the well before emptying it of the mud that was holding in the flammable gas.

Anyone living in a state that could have new drilling off their coast should keep this catastrophe in mind if their politicians are given the option of vetoing new projects.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: Wall Street Goes to the Movies

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the U.S. Senate rejected a plan that would have broken up the nation’s six largest banks firms into firms that could fail without wreaking havoc on the economy. Even though the defeat reinforces Wall Street’s political dominance, there is still room for a handful of other useful reforms, like banning banks from gambling with taxpayer money and protecting consumers from banker abuses. After looting our houses, banks are now pushing for the ability to bet on movie box-office receipts, and will keep trying to financialize anything they can unless Congress acts.

Wall Street calls the shots

Writing for The Nation, John Nichols details last week’s Capitol Hill damage. Today’s financial oligarchy, in which a handful of bigwig bankers and their lobbyists are able to write regulations and evade rules they don’t like, will still be in place after the Wall Street reform bill is passed. The lesson is clear, as Nichols notes:

Whatever the final form of federal financial services reform legislation, one thing is now certain: The biggest of the big banks will still be calling the shots.

Still worth fighting for

As I emphasize for AlterNet, Congress has made a terrible mistake here, but there is still room for reform. It took President Franklin Delano Roosevelt seven years to enact his New Deal banking laws. It took even longer to reshape public opinion of monopolies when President Theodore Roosevelt took on Corporate America in the early 1900s.

What’s still worth fighting for? We have to curb the derivatives market—the multi-trillion-dollar casino that destroyed AIG. We have to impose a strong version of the Volcker Rule, which would ban banks from engaging in speculative trading for their own accounts. We have to change the way the Federal Reserve does business and force the government’s most secretive bailout engine to operate in the open. And we have to establish a strong, independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency to ensure that the horrific subprime mortgage abuses are not repeated.

As Nomi Prins details for The American Prospect, the current reform bill will not effectively deal with the dangers posed by hedge funds and private equity firms—companies that partnered with banks to blow up the economy through investments in subprime mortgages. That means that whatever happens with the current bill, Congress must again take action next year to rein in other financial sector excesses.

The derivatives casino at the movies

As Nick Baumann demonstrates for Mother Jones, banks are doing everything they can to gobble up other productive elements of the economy. The economy crashed in 2008 in large part because banks had used the derivatives market to place trillions of dollars in speculative bets on the housing market. This wasn’t lending, it was pure gambling: Instead of using poker chips, bankers placed their bets with derivatives. But, as Baumann emphasizes, banks are now looking to expand the sort of thing they can make derivatives gambles with. The latest proposal is to allow banks to bet on the box office success of movies. That’s right, banks would be gambling on movies.

Hollywood may be shallow, but it isn’t stupid. It doesn’t want to see the banking industry repeat its destructive looting of the housing industry on the movie business, and is pushing hard to ban banks from betting on movies. But we can’t count on every industry having a powerful lobby group to counter every assault from the banking system.

Taking stock in schools

Consider the unsettling report by Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now!. Gonzales details how big banks gamed the charter school system to score huge profits while simultaneously saddling taxpayers with massive debts that make teaching kids supremely difficult. By exploiting multiple federal tax credits, banks that invest in charter schools have been able to double their money in seven years—no small feat in the investing world—while schools have seen their rents skyrocket. One school in Albany, N.Y. saw its rent jump from $170,000 to $500,000 in a single year.

About that unemployment rate…

It’s not like public schools are flush with cash right now. The $330,000 increase in rent could pay the salaries of more than a few teachers. As the recession sparked by big bank excess grinds on, even the good news is pretty hard to swallow. As David Moberg emphasizes for Working In These Times, the economy added 290,000 jobs in April, but the unemployment rate actually climbed from 9.7 percent to 9.9 percent in March. That’s because the unemployment rate only counts workers who are actively seeking a job—if you want a job but haven’t found one for so long that you give up, you’re not technically “unemployed.” All of those “new” workers are driving the official figures up.

In other words, it’s still rough out there. And likely to stay rough as state governments try to deal with the lost tax revenue from plunging home values and mass layoffs. Nearly half of all unemployed people in the U.S. have been out of a job for six months or more. And while we’d be much worse off without Obama’s economic stimulus package, that percentage is likely to grow this year, Moberg notes.

This is what unrestrained banking behemoths do. They book big profits and bonuses for themselves, regardless of the consequences for the rest of the economy. Congress absolutely must impose serious financial reform this year. After the November election, breaking up the banks must once again be on the agenda when Congress considers the future fate of hedge funds, private equity firms, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. If we don’t rein in Wall Street, banks will continue to wreak havoc on our homes, our jobs and even our schools. Congress must act.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Citizens Lead Cochabamba Climate Negotiations

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Environmental advocates from around the world gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, this week and resolved that, a year from now, they would hold a world’s people referendum on climate change to marshal support for the rights of the planet.

“Although it is hoped that some states will cooperate, the participation of governments will not be essential to the referendum, as civil society organizations are to plan it according to their own lights and the traditions and customs of each local area,” reports Franz Chavez for Inter Press Service.

The conference’s democratic, citizen-oriented format starkly contrasted with March’s United Nations-led summit in Copenhagen. The conference at Cochabamba emphasized inclusion and a diversity of voices, providing an antidote to processes like the U.N. climate negotiations, where smaller countries were excluded from key discussions.

No official United States delegation attended the conference, but this week, the country held its own celebration of the environment: the 40th annual Earth Day. On Thursday, arguments over climate change were put on pause, as environmental leaders recognized both accomplishments and the unfinished business of cleaning up the air, land, and water.

“Environmentalism isn’t such a mysterious thing anymore. People are looking more at environmental values as being things that are tangible and relate to how we live our lives,” Pete Carrels of the South Dakota Sierra Club told Public News Service.

The mystery, now, lies in finding a way to shore up defenses against old environmental hazards—dirty water, dirty air, diminishing resources—and to agree on a path towards a low-carbon future that avoids the worst calamities of climate change.

At Cochabamba

“Bolivian music, indigenous ceremonies and the Bolivian army’s honor guard were on hand to greet the first indigenous president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales,” Democracy Now! reported from Tiquipaya, the town just outside Cochabamba where the actual conference is being held.

In a stadium crowded with fifteen thousand people, President Morales opened the event Tuesday morning with exhortations to choose life for the planet. Franz Chavez of Inter Press Service reports:

“The stadium, ablaze with the multi-coloured traditional garments of different Andean and Amazonian native communities and the flags of people from different countries around the world that contrasted with the cold formality of presidential summits, served as the stage for Morales, of Aymara descent, to call for an “inter-continental movement” in defence of Mother Earth.”

You can get a sense of the atmosphere in this GRITtv report or the below video from Yes! Magazine.

Too many cooks?

One of the main goals of the summit was to draft a “universal declaration of rights of Mother Earth,” envisioned as a complement to the United Nations declaration on human rights. There were also 17 working groups that dealt with issues like climate migrants, the Kyoto protocol, and technology transfer. Any conference participant could participate in up to five working groups.

The open format was, at times, chaotic. Cormac Cullinan, an environmental lawyer from South Africa who provide the baseline text for the declaration of rights, told Democracy Now! that on one day of the conference four hundred people were contributing revisions to the text. Another day, that number jumped to one thousand.

“The challenge is to make sure we integrated all the different comments and point of view,” he said. “We’re essentially expressing an entirely new world view from an indigenous perspective in legal language.”

Many voices, but what are the solutions?

Elizabeth Cooper affirms this emphasis on a diversity of voices in a report for Yes! Magazine. “This issue of valuing the knowledge and abilities of indigenous peoples and those from the South was an undercurrent to the rest of the afternoon as it is to the Summit as a whole,” she writes.

But this scale of participation also meant that conversations could veer from essential topics. Also at Yes! Magazine, Jim Shultz asks, “If forcing rich countries to pay a climate debt is a dead end, what is the plan to move “climate debt” from a catchy idea to a real proposal with a chance of delivering some results?”

“At a workshop today on that topic, there was an abundance of declarations about why climate debt is important, but few ideas of how to make it real,” he reports.

The need

There’s a need, though, for people to participate in these discussions, even if the conversations don’t take a smooth and tidy course. At The Nation, Naomi Klein writes that “Bolivia’s climate summit has had moments of joy, levity and absurdity. Yet underneath it all, you can feel the emotion that provoked this gathering: rage against helplessness.”

At a conference like Copenhagen, the worries and priorities of smaller countries were ultimately excluded from the debate. In Bolivia, Klein explains, glaciers—the water source for two major cities—are melting. Yet that problem did not earn the country a place in the Copenhagen discussions that could determine its fate. Cochabamba’s goals were, in part, to reestablish a more democratic system for decision-making about climate reform.

As Regina Cornwell documents at the Women’s Media Center, left to its own devices, international bodies like the United Nations easily exclude interested groups from the conversation.

“In early March, just as the entire area of Manhattan around the UN was crawling with women wearing their blue Conference for the Status of Women tags, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a “High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing” composed exclusively of men,” she writes.

Earth Day 2010

The conferees at Cochabamba traveled to Bolivia because they saw a gap in leadership after UN climate talks at Copenhagen crumbled. The ideas developed this week could prompt the world’s leaders towards brave action on climate change. Strong leadership can make the difference between real change and status quo.

At The Nation, John Nichols reflects on the leadership of Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who helped create Earth Day. Nelson, was “a bold progressive who recognized the need to make the health and welfare of human beings, in the United States and abroad, a priority over the profits of multinational corporations,” he writes. Nelson’s vision for Earth Day was to produce an outpouring of empathy for the environment “so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy.”

It worked. The first Earth Day is credited with driving action on the environmental institutions that still protect Americans today: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Today’s leaders

Today, other leaders are fighting the same fight as Nelson did. At Cochabamba, these climate leaders, profiled by Colorlines, are marshaling their communities to push back against global warming, as are these conference-goers. They lack official titles but are leading nonetheless. Young people, like those honored by the Brower Youth Award, are coming up with amazing ideas to ensure a healthy future for the planet, reports LinkTV. At The Progressive, Winona LaDuke explains how native communities are working to produce a new energy economy.

And all over the world, individuals are working to minimize their impact and the impact of their societies on the environment. AlterNet suggests “five ways you can help save life on earth,” and Care2 has two other suggestions: eat less meat and reduce use of water bottles.

For more inspiration, check out the climate rally on Sunday, April 25 on the Mall in Washington, DC; organizers are promising the largest climate rally ever, along with an awesome line-up of speakers and performers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: How Deregulation Fueled Goldman Sachs’ Scam

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud charges against Goldman Sachs and underscored what most Americans have believed for some time: Wall Street has rigged the economy in its own favor, and will stop at nothing—not even outright theft—to boost its profits. What’s worse, Goldman’s scam could have been completely prevented by better regulations and law enforcement.

Goldman’s heist

Let’s be clear. “Financial fraud” means “theft.” Goldman Sachs sold investors securities that were stocked with subprime mortgages and had been cherry-picked by a hedge fund manager named John Paulson. Paulson believed these mortgages were about to go bust, so he helped Goldman Sachs concoct the securities so that he could bet against them himself.

Goldman Sachs, like Paulson, also bet against the securities. But when Goldman sold the securities to investors, it didn’t tell them that Paulson had devised the securities, or that he was betting on their failure. By withholding crucial information from investors, Goldman directly profited from the scam at the expense of its own clients. If ordinary citizens did what the SEC’s alleges Goldman did, we’d call it stealing.

As Nick Baumann emphasizes for Mother Jones, the SEC’s suit against Goldman is just the tip of the iceberg. During the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s, literally thousands of bankers were jailed for financial fraud. Today’s crisis was much larger in scope, yet the Goldman allegations are among the first serious charges of legal wrongdoing to emerge (other complaints have been filed against Regions Bank and former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo). If the SEC or the FBI are doing their jobs, we should see many more of these cases.

Bust ‘em up.

How do banks get away with these kinds of shenanigans and still secure epic taxpayer bailouts? It’s all about their political clout, as Robert Reich notes for The American Prospect. So long as banks are so enormous that they can ruin the economy with their collapse, the institutions will always carry tremendous political clout.

Even in the case of Goldman Sachs, which is too-big-to-fail by any reasonable standard, the SEC’s fraud case is being filed three years after the company’s alleged offense. That’s well after the company rode to safety on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the AIG bailout and billions more in other indirect assistance—and only after multiple journalists made Goldman’s offensive transactions general public knowledge.

If we don’t break up the big banks, politically connected Wall Street titans will make sure they get bailed out when the next crisis hits, regardless of whatever laws we have on the books.

Fix the derivatives casino

If Congress doesn’t soon pass a bill to break up behemoth banks, it will be neglecting the gravest problem in our financial system today. But several other reforms are needed if Wall Street is ever going to serve a useful economic function again.

As Nomi Prins emphasizes for AlterNet, much of the Wall Street profit machine has been divorced from the economy that the rest of us live in. These days, banks make most of their money from securities trades and derivatives deals. Their actual lending business is taking a beating. That means big banks have very little incentive to promote economic well-being for every day citizens. We need to create these incentives by banning economically essential banks from engaging in securities trades, and make sure all derivatives transactions are conducted on open, transparent exchanges, just like ordinary stocks and bonds.

Better derivatives regulations could help protect against fraud. If Goldman Sachs’ sketchy subprime deal had been subject to market scrutiny on an exchange, it’s very unlikely that any investor would have bought into it. Goldman Sachs almost got away with it because the deal was secretive and beyond the scope of most regulatory oversight.

Protect whistleblowers

The Goldman case also raises significant questions about the government’s enforcement of existing financial fraud laws. Bradley Birkenfeld, a banker for Swiss financial giant UBS, helped the Department of Justice bring the largest tax fraud case in history against his company, which was helping rich Americans hide money from the IRS in offshore bank accounts.

For his cooperation, Birkenfeld was rewarded with a four-year prison sentence, even though nobody else at UBS—nobody—has been sentenced to prison over the scam. As Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman emphasize for Democracy Now!, Birkenfeld’s imprisonment could have something to with who exactly is hiding money with UBS.

Gonzalez discusses an interview with Birkenfeld, in which the former banker notes that the bank had a special office to handle the accounts of “politically exposed persons”— American politicians. Moreover, the top brass at UBS includes key advisors to top politicians in both parties. This is exactly the kind of influence smuggling that breaking up the banks would help fix. UBS is a multi-trillion-dollar institution with no less than 27 U.S. subsidiaries.

But protecting Birkenfeld would accomplish still more—by jailing him, the Justice Department is actively discouraging others from coming forward, and making it more difficult for regulators to enforce the law.

Greenspan’s failure

It’s abundantly clear that almost every major regulatory agency charged with curtailing financial excess failed to prevent the Crash of 2008. But that failure doesn’t mean that effective regulation is impossible—it only shows that the regulators in power failed. The top bank regulator in the U.S., John Dugan, was a former bank lobbyist.

As Christopher Hayes demonstrates for The Nation, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has never had any interest in regulation whatsoever. After the crash, Greenspan insisted that nobody could have seen it coming. But as Hayes notes, many people did—Greenspan simply didn’t listen to them. These days, Greenspan is revising his story, claiming that he did in fact see the crisis coming, but that nobody could have prevented it. That is simply not credible.

Hayes draws a useful parallel Hurricane Katrina, a problem sparked by a natural event that became a catastrophe when regulators failed to take the necessary precautions. The lesson from both Katrina and the financial crash is not that government always screws up—we have plenty of examples of government preventing floods and economic calamity. The lesson we should learn is that people who don’t believe in government will never do a good job governing. As Hayes notes:

If Greenspan couldn’t figure things out, that doesn’t mean others can’t. In fact, developing systems for doing just that is called—quite simply—progress, and Alan Greenspan continues to be one of its enemies.

That is exactly the task that now presents itself before Congress: Developing a system to prevent and constrain economic destruction wielded by Wall Street. The U.S. had a system that did exactly this for more than fifty years. For the last thrity years, it has been systematically dismantled. How well Congress lives up to that challenge will define much of our economic future for decades to come.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Cochabamba Summit to Combat Climate Change Innovatively

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday, climate activists, nonprofit leaders, and governmental officials will gather in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to look for new ideas to address climate change. The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, organized by leading social organizations like 350.0rg, “will advocate the right to “live well,” as opposed to the economic principle of uninterrupted growth,” as Inter Press Service explains.  In the absence of real leadership from the world’s governments, the conferees at Cochabamba are looking for solutions “committed to the rights of people and environment.”

The United States certainly isn’t stepping up. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), were supposed to release their climate legislation next week, just in time for Earth Day. But yesterday the word came down that the release was being pushed back by another week, to April 26.

No matter when it finally arrives, like other recent environmental initiatives, this round of climate legislation falls short. Even if Congress manages to pass a bill—and there’s no guarantee—it will likely leave plenty of room for the coal, oil, and gas industries to continue pouring carbon into the atmosphere. And a wimpy effort from Congress will hinder international work to limit carbon emissions: As a prime polluter, the United States needs to put forward a real plan for change.

Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman

Although the text of the bill is not public yet, it is likely that this attempt at Senate climate legislation will limit carbon emissions only among utilities and gradually phase in other sectors of the economy. On Democracy Now!, environmentalist Bill McKibben called the bill “an incredible accumulation of gifts to all the energy industries, in the hopes that they won’t provide too much opposition to what’s a very weak greenhouse gas pact.”

Climate reform began with a leaner idea, a cap-and-trade system that limited carbon emissions while encouraging innovation. The Nation’s editors document the transformation of climate reform from the Obama administration’s original cap-and-trade proposal to the behemoth tangle  it has become. Both the House and the Senate fattened their versions of climate legislation with treats for the energy industry. The Senate’s new idea to gradually expand emissions reduction through a bundle of energy bills only opens up more opportunities for influence.

“Some of these pieces of legislation may pass; others may fail; all are ripe for gaming by corporate lobbies,” the editors write. “Kerry-Lieberman-Graham would also skew subsidies in the wrong direction, throwing billions at “clean coal” technologies, nuclear power plants and offshore drilling, a questionable gambit favored by the Obama administration to garner support from Republicans and representatives from oil-, gas- and coal-producing states.”

Even with these goodies, the climate bill may not pass. The Washington Independent rounds up the D.C. players to watch as the next fight unfolds, including the Chamber of Commerce’s William Kovacs and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lisa Jackson.

Green leftovers

In theory, the climate bill should not be America’s only ride to a greener future. But the other vehicles for green change choked during start-up. The EPA was going to regulate carbon emissions, but Congress has reared against that effort. The climate bill could snatch away that power from the executive branch.

If companies won’t limit their carbon emissions, individuals still have the option for action. But as Heather Rogers explains in The Nation, carbon offsets, one of the most popular mechanisms for minimizing carbon use “are a dubious enterprise.”

“To begin with, they don’t cut greenhouse gases immediately but only over the life of a project, and that can take years–some tree-planting efforts need a century to do the work. And a project is effective only if it’s successfully followed through; trees can die or get cut down, unforeseen ecological destruction might be triggered or the projects may simply go unbuilt.”

The pull of carbon offsets should diminish as energy use in buildings, cars, food, and flights gains in efficiency and uses less carbon. But if the green jobs sector is any indication, that revolution has been slow in coming. ColorLines reports that “there are no firm numbers on how many newly trained green workers are still jobless. But stories abound of programs that turn out workers with new, promising skills—in solar panel installation and weatherization, in places like Seattle and Chicago—and who nonetheless can’t find jobs.”

Cochabamba’s unique approach

These failures and setbacks don’t just affect Americans; they keep our leaders from negotiating with their international peers. The United Nations led a conference last winter in Copenhagen that promised to hash out carbon limits, yet produced no binding agreement. This coming winter, the UN will try again in Mexico, but if the United States shows up with the scant plan put forward by Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, those negotiations have little promise.

In Cochabamba, leaders from inside and outside the government will attend a summit to discuss the future of climate change action. In The Progressive, Teo Ballve writes that,

“One of the bolder ideas is the creation of a global climate justice tribunal that could serve as an enforcement mechanism. And conference participants are already working on a “Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights” meant to parallel the U.N.’s landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.”

With U.S. government action paling, it might take outside ideas like these to revitalize the push towards a green future. By the end of next week, we’ll see if the Cochabamba group made any more progress than the bigwigs at Copenhagen.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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