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Peter Barnes' Posts

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Breaking the Gordian knot on climate legislation

The Senate is tied in knots on climate legislation. In President Obama’s view, putting an economy-wide price on carbon is the most effective way to stimulate clean energy invest­ment and jobs. Most Democrats -- though not enough -- agree. Roughly half a dozen Republicans, given some political cover, might go along, but the party’s leadership opposes a “national energy tax.” Sixty filibuster-proof votes are therefore not in sight. And after November, when Democrats are expected to lose seats, the prospects look even grimmer. What is to be done? The conventional wisdom is to court Senatorial votes by giving handouts and …

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Why Cantwell-Collins is best — and how it just might win

As U.S. climate legislation creeps forward, Senators now have two frameworks to choose from.  One is from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); the other is from Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).  Both begin with descending carbon caps that, along with supplementary policies, promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at roughly the same rate, and both protect domestic industries by imposing fees on carbon-intensive imports from countries that don’t limit emissions. But from there the two approaches diverge markedly. The Kerry-Lieberman-Graham framework is based on the Waxman-Markey bill that narrowly passed the …

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Why two climate bills are better than one

As this is written, two House Committees — Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means — are considering climate legislation.  Both are following similar timetables, and hope to report bills by June.   In the case of Energy and Commerce, chairman Henry Waxman has released a 648-page discussion draft.  The draft creates a large and complex carbon trading system but is silent on two key questions — whether initial permits will be auctioned or given free to polluters, and how revenue from permit auctions, if any, will be used.  Despite the silence on these questions, however, it is widely expected …

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Beware utilities seeking free pollution permits

America's electric utilities (PDF) are waging a no-holds-barred campaign to get 40% of carbon emission permits allocated free to local distribution companies and merchant coal generators. They argue that free allocation will protect consumers better than auctions and cash back. Just give us free permits, they say, and we'll pass through the savings to our customers. Sounds appealing. But beware: this is not what happened in Europe. There, utilities got free permits and raised rates anyway, earning billions in windfall profits. See the study by the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands (PDF), which found that a significant part of …

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How Obama can revive the economy and heal the planet

A few days before the election, Barack Obama told Time's Joe Klein: Finding the new driver of our economy is going to be critical. There's no better driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy ... That's going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office. That's exactly the right choice for numerous economic, geopolitical, and ecological reasons. By spawning "a new energy economy," Obama can create millions of new jobs, decrease our dependence on foreign oil and avert catastrophic climate change. But the politics of launching that new energy economy -- …

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The silver-lining of Lieberman-Warner’s demise

The demise of the Lieberman-Warner climate bill may not be a bad thing if it spurs environmentalists and politicians to ask: Is this the best way to cap carbon? Let's be clear what Lieberman-Warner was. Yes, it contained a carbon cap. But mostly it was about spending or giving away trillions of dollars. It was, as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) put it, "the mother and father of all earmarks," and every lobbyist in town was at the trough. The bill sought to allocate a vast sum of money over 40 years -- the exact amount is unknowable because it depends …

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A system to control climate change and reduce poverty

The following is a guest essay. ----- Stabilizing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere at a level that will fulfill the mandate of the UN Framework Concentration on Climate Change to avoid "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system" will require drastic departures from business as usual. Here we introduce one attractive response to this challenge that may seem visionary or idealistic today but that could well become realistic once we reach a tipping point regarding climate change that opens a window of opportunity for embracing major changes. No silver bullet exists capable of solving the complex and …