How Important is a United Front on the Climate Bill?

As fans of clean transportation and sustainable development join the push for a strong climate change bill to emerge from Congress, it’s worth remembering that not all environmental groups support the approach congressional Democrats have chosen.

091103_Rockefeller_ap_297.jpgSenate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) (Photo: AP)

Friends of the Earth (FoE) joined Greenpeace in opposing the House climate bill as too weak and deferential to polluting industries, and FoE president Erich Pica has just issued a statement on today’s passage of the Senate version that makes clear his view hasn’t changed:

While the bill reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today is in some ways better than the bill that passed the House in June … it remains a woefully disproportionate response to the tremendous economic, security and public health threats posed by global warming.

The bill’s backbone is a poorly regulated carbon trading scheme that entrusts the Wall Street bankers who brought us the current economic crisis with the responsibility to solve global warming. The bill showers polluting corporations with billions of dollars, but doesn’t require them to reduce pollution fast enough to avoid devastating climate change impacts. And it contains massive carbon offset loopholes that would allow U.S. polluters to keep polluting by paying for often-non-existent pollution reductions overseas. Other loopholes, such as excluding pollution from bioenergy, also undermine the bill’s intent.

Plenty of folks in the green advocacy world are more open to working within the Senate’s framework — the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, to name a few. But the lack of a unified front from environmental advocates, which reared its head during the House climate debate over the summer, risks amplifying the lack of a unified front among the very same Democrats who must help bring the bill over the finish line.

The Senate is a singularly cautious place that often seems tousled by the slightest shift in the political winds; witness Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who hails from coal country and mused yesterday that he doesn’t "think people in my state are going to stand up and start cheering about Copenhagen," where global pollution reduction talks will open next month.

Simply put, the more schisms begin to show in the Senate climate debate, the more lawmakers such as Rockefeller may push to de-emphasize the issue.

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