Protecting Coal, but at What Cost?
The push is on to dilute the climate change bills moving through Congress, and it’s not coming only from conservatives. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports today that 14 Senate Democrats are urging their leadership to amend the proposal to grant more free polluting permits to the coal-burning utilities that emit the most greenhouse gases. In a letter to Senate Democratic leaders, the lawmakers argue that the current formula, which allots permits based half on emissions and half on sales, is unfair to the higher-emitting utilities (i.e., those that burn coal).
Under the proposed 50/50 formula, utilities that are more coal dependent will need to purchase even more allowances than they would have if all allowances were allocated based on emissions.
Well, yeah. And under the current proposed 50/50 formula, the coal burners would also have to purchase more allowances than if Congress did nothing at all. But the whole point of the bill is to discourage the use of high-emission energies like coal by making them less affordable than cleaner alternatives. Sheppard explains further why the lawmakers’ argument makes little sense in the context of the global warming debate:
Of course, this would work against the entire logic of the proposed scheme, which is to offer utilities financial incentives to switch to lower-carbon fuel sources. [...]
Right now, the climate bill needs all the votes it can get from Democrats. So enviros worry that concessions to this bloc could ultimately result in a deal in which coal plants suffer no real penalties for the carbon they pump into the atmosphere. “Dirty coal polluters know their days are numbered and are lobbying for the largest piece of the pie they can get,” said Jason Kowalski, policy coordinator at 1Sky. “It goes against the spirit of this legislation to reward the polluters that caused this problem in the first place.”
Signing on to the letter were Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Al Franken (Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Roland Burris (Ill.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Robert Byrd (W.Va.).