It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Waxman-Markey Bill

It's interesting how none of the proponents of Waxman-Markey would point to the text, but it's not hard to find. It's linked here and is officially called the "American Clean Energy and Security Act".

Although it is one of those things intimidatingly described as being over 600 pages long, it was very amusing to discover that the margins and font size match what you'd expect for a nine-year-old's primer. There are about 200 words per page at most. So, though inhumanely formatted, the entire thing is only about 120,000 words. Not an easy thing to read but not overwhelming either.

Where did this come from? Waxman and Markey's staffs? Lobbyists? Anyway it is proportionally less mysterious at 200 words per page than at the 1000 or so I imagined. (This is the first time I ever looked at draft legislation.)

The claim for the legislation is as follows:
The American Clean Energy and Security Act will create millions of new clean energy jobs, save consumers hundreds of billions of dollars in energy costs, enhance America's energy independence, and cut global warming pollution. To meet these goals, the legislation has four titles:
  • * A clean energy title that promotes renewable sources of energy, carbon capture and sequestration technologies, low-carbon fuels, clean electric vehicles, and the smart grid and electricity transmission;
  • * An energy efficiency title that increases energy efficiency across all sectors of the economy, including buildings, appliances, transportation, and industry;
  • * A global warming title that places limits on emissions of heat-trapping pollutants; and
  • * A transitioning title that protects U.S. consumers and industry and promotes green jobs during the transition to a clean energy economy.
The process envisioned by the committee is as follows:

The Energy and Commerce Committee will complete consideration of the legislation by Memorial Day. The preliminary schedule follows:

  • Week of April 20: Energy and Environment Subcommittee Hearings
  • Week of April 27: Energy and Environment Subcommittee Markup Period Begins
  • Week of May 11: Full Energy and Commerce Committee Markup Period Begins
So this thing is well on its way. My biggest concern is that it is a bundle of good intentions with nonobvious flaws that the drafters of the bill will not have the time to see but that the impacted industries will have ample time and motivation to discover and exploit. This is the reason to always err on the side of simplicity.

First impression: This is not a cap and trade bill. This is a big pile of conventional wisdom bill. The trouble with conventional wisdom is that it may not be consistent. Inconsistent legislation leads to incoherent behavior, which makes things worse. I can't understand why something of this importance needs to be rushed. Yes, the present congress needs to act, but they have another year to iron out the kinks and promote the product.

The argument for rushing, aside from the usual naive confusion about the time scales of the climate problem (and probably about the time scales of the "green economy" and surely about the economic tradeoffs of it) amounts to "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush", and the argument for cap and trade over a tax amounts to "it's pretty much the same thing but the teabaggers won't put up with it if we call it a tax". On the latter point, sorry but nobody is being fooled, teabaggers included.

On the arguments from urgency, wouldn't it be better to 1) take the time to think things through and 2) try to exert some leadership so that the public understands and supports the endeavor? These suggestions appear alien to the present governing class and lobbying classes, which means that not much has changed yet.

And, though it's always a bit baffling to see Republicans attacking Wall Street, don't they have a point here?
Barton and Walden are now pressing the EPA about why the case took so long to prosecute, the apparent leniency in sentencing, and the reported prosecution cost of $80 million. They're also probing the accuracy of EPA comments indicating there may be a raft of other fraud cases that haven't been investigated.

Legislators also point to alleged fraud in the European Union emissions trading market. Under the program, companies are allowed to offset their emissions by investing in projects like high-efficiency power plants that cut greenhouse gas emissions. These projects are often located overseas where verification is difficult, if not impossible.

Environmental groups alleged, and EU officials acknowledged, that much of the offsets weren't legitimate. "Billions of dollars have been transferred from taxpayers to undeserving project developers and a growing army of carbon brokers and consultants," said environmental organization Friends of the Earth.

Such examples are also raising fears about the next U.S. market, which will be far more complicated and much larger than both Reclaim and the EU emissions program.

"All of the evil things that Wall Street will do to an unregulated financial commodity market, they will try to do in spades to this carbon market," said Mark Cooper, head of research at the Consumer Federation of America.
Yes, of course Barton will oppose a tax just as vehemently, but will he have as cogent an argument?

We already have the example of well-intentioned major legislation on corn ethanol backfiring spectacularly. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Can we have the same level of intellectual rigor about legislation as we do about science or medicine or engineering? Where did the Waxman-Markey text come from, and what makes anybody think that three weeks of markup will be enough, given the corporate interests' decades of followup looking for profitable loopholes, never mind weaknesses in enforcement.

I want some reassurance that years of critical thought went into this document. As far as I know it sprung into existence this year as a direct consequence of existing political constraints and not much else. Please tell me I am wrong.

I suppose I have to try to read it now. Groan.


King of the Road said...

"I suppose I have to try to read it now. Groan."I imagine that that's much more than the majority of those who will actually vote on it will do.

BeyondGreen said...

There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources. Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.The high cost of fuel this past year seriously damaged our economy and society. The cost of fuel effects every facet of consumer goods from production to shipping costs. It costs the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon to charge and drive an electric car. If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV's instead had plug-in electric drive trains the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota.We have so much available to us such as wind and solar. Let's spend some of those bail out billions and get busy harnessing this energy. Create cheap clean energy, badly needed new jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What a win-win situation that would be for our nation at large! I just read a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now. Investing in energy independence would positively

Jenna said...

Thanks for the link. First of all, since you say you've never read draft legislation before - this is ALWAYS how it's formatted. It's standard.

Also - I think some of your points make sense for someone who hasn't been paying attention. As someone who works in the industry - let me enlighten you. Congress has been holding hearings with expert testimony on the need to take action on our climate and energy policies since the Clinton administration, with some before. We've had 8 years of inaction on one of the most pressing issues of our time. We're done waiting - we need comprehensive climate and energy legislation NOW.

Michael Tobis said...

Jenna, I don't doubt that something has to be achieved in the current congress, but I don't see that it needs to be front-loaded.

I am sure a lot of thought has happened. I am not sure how it got collated. As far as I can see, people who don't have a whole-systems view think that a big solution is not much different from a large collection of small solutions.

Again, I'm not questioning the need for the legislation. I would like to see some holistic view of this collection of stuff to justify how all these good intentions are going to add up to a good result.