THE CLIMATE CHANGE BUSINESS
This is going to fuel the fires of those who believe cap-and-trade is nothing more than a big business scam to profit on climate change. But it’s probably not going to give them much satisfaction.
Investigative reporter Marianne Lavelle took a good hard look at who’s involved in the action around anticipated climate change legislation. Her exceptionally valuable work revealed that shaping how the U.S. will cut greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs) is turning into quite a lucrative business.
From Lavelle's extraordinary investigative piece. (click to enlarge)
U.S. emissions caps and the trading designed to facilitate emissions reductions are still voluntary. But they will not be for much longer if the President and Congressional leaders get their way.
After the November election, President Obama announced new American leadership in the fight to cut GhGs and reverse global climate change and said his administration would develop a mandatory national cap-and-trade system. In his recent address to the joint session of Congress, he reaffirmed this commitment to emissions caps and an emissions trading marketplace.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, the same day, the Obama administration expects cap-and-trade system-derived revenues in the federal budget by 2012.
A cap-and-trade system will apply the return-maximizing drive of the free market to the problem of cutting emissions.
Emitting industries such as power producers, utilities and heavy manufacturers will have their GhGs will be capped at restrictive levels. Each industry will be allowed to purchase credits for marginally higher emissions. Those emitters who find ways, through using Energy Efficiency methods and New Energy sources of power, to do their business below capped levels can sell their credits to heavier emitters in the cap-and-trade marketplace.
Lavelle: “The idea is that the permits would become a valuable commodity, and companies that can cut emissions quickly can profit by selling their permits to companies that are having a hard time. It’s a way of giving businesses flexibility, while creating incentives for innovators to figure out the lowest-cost solutions.”
The effectiveness of the limited 1990s sulfur dioxide emissions market in reducing acid rain inclines cap-and-trade boosters to believe such a market-based system will work against GhGs. Many are dubious. There are many GhGs and the main one, carbon dioxide (CO2), comes from lots of sources. Acid rain came only from coal plant sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and was therefore much simpler to monitor and eliminate.
From envirodefensefund via YouTube.
Many expect global emissions trading to be in the trillions of dollars. Such a system will involve, as Lavelle says, “project developers, financers, verifiers, registries, and consultants…” All of them will be playing for big money and, it is safe to assume, looking for angles.
The European Union (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has grown dramatically in each of its 4 years. It has stumbled and learned from its mistakes. As early mistakes were eliminated, players found new ways to game the system.
Initially, the EU ETS gave its emitting industries, like power plants and utilities, free credits. Too many free credits. That made generating GhGs too cheap. With the market’s most recent phase, beginning last year, caps were tightened, more industries were capped and credits were auctioned. But the global financial crisis slowed business, the emitters were less active, they needed fewer credits, they dumped their credits for short-term returns and credit value again fell.
More damning to the cap-and-trade concept still, European emissions have yet to significantly drop.
It is likely the EU ETS failings are but growing pains. The system is less than 5 years old and has not been supported by the world’s most important economies (like the U.S., China and India). The failings nevertheless beg the question of how the U.S. can better design a cap-and-trade market.
Climate change lobbyists looking to influence the parameters of the U.S. cap and trade system are springing up on Capitol Hill like weeds. Financial institutions alone, which had almost no lobbyists working on climate change and emissions trading in 2003, now have upwards of 150.
Lavelle: “…the special interests that seek to derail, blunt, or tailor any new climate policy to their narrow agendas have already gathered in staggering numbers. A Center for Public Integrity analysis…shows that more than 770 companies and interest groups hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change in the past year…That’s an increase of more than 300 percent in the number of lobbyists on climate change in just five years…Washington can now boast more than four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress….15 percent of all Washington lobbyists spent at least some of their time on global warming in 2008…”
There are 9 environmental groups actively lobbying.
At stake: How severe will emitters be capped? How many credits will be provided for free to entice players enthusiastically into the system and how many will be auctioned, increasing the financial strain on emitters? How regulations and oversight prevent financial strains from being passsed on to utility ratepayers and consumers?
Many believe if the Congressional designers of the cap-and-trade system get it right, it will drive investment in all the right things (i.e., New Energy and Energy Efficiency technologies and infrastructure). If they get it wrong – and in the wake of the recent financial meltdown many doubt the possibility of making an abuse-proof system – the U.S. role in the fight against global climate change could be hampered beyond repair.
Dirk Forrister, managing director/lobbyist, carbon market player Natsource: “There’s a newfound concern about the role of markets in general…and I think we have to be thoughtful about what forms of market oversight need to be put in place.”
Many insist fairness must be included. (click to enlarge)
Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) reviewed criticisms of cap-and-trade rendered by former EPA attorneys Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel in Keeping Our Eyes on the Wrong Ball and concluded: “The broad political support for cap-and-trade scheme is rooted in its biggest flaw – that an incremental approach designed to keep prices for carbon-based energy low will be insufficient to accomplish a quick shift in energy sources.”
Williams and Zabel rejected the idea that the anti-acid rain system proved cap-and-trade’s effectiveness and chronicled examples of the system’s failures. They believe a cap-and-trade system is too complicated, too easily manipulated and – most significantly – will not shift investment to New Energy in a timely and large-scale manner.
Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who will be working hard to pass cap-and-trade legislation for President Obama, does not doubt that.
Bingaman: “[Offsets are] fraught with opportunities for game-playing, which will be fully exploited, I’m sure.”
Williams and Zabel advocate a carbon fee. Emitters simply pay a fee for every ton of emissions. It is in essence a carbon tax with another name. Revenues from the carbon fees would go to the development of New Energy and Energy Efficiencies.
Jeff Ruch, Executive Director, PEER: “We should pay attention to what the specialists who would have to administer a cap-and-trade have to say…A political consensus around cap-and-trade does little good if it does not work as promised – and we do not have the luxury of getting it wrong the first time.”
The Williams and Zabel “Wrong Ball” analysis assumes cap-and-trade cannot be made effective by correcting failures in past applications. It also assumes a carbon fee system is politically obtainable.
Many say the cap-and-trade concept, like the carbon fee, is merely a carbon tax by another name. To the extent that is true, it is so because most agree a price must be put on GhGs whereas overtly creating a new tax is not politically viable.
With all the players circling around climate change legislation, it is very hard to be sure what is and is not politically possible.
Chelsea Maxwell, former Senate staffer who worked on climate legislation, now a Clark Group lobbyist: “Five years ago, people saw climate change as an environmental issue, and it really goes beyond that…It’s an energy issue. It’s a national security issue. It’s a tax issue. It’s an immigration issue. It has so many facets that as those constituencies start seeing there’s likelihood of movement on the Hill, then, of course people want to make sure their interests are… represented…I don’t think [climate change legislation is] impossible…What it’s going to take is a lot of deliberation.”
Competing bills. (click to enlarge)
It is hard to overestimate how much is at stake.
James Hansen, dean of U.S. climate change scientists at NASA: “The danger is that special interests will dilute and torque government policies, causing the climate to pass tipping points, with grave consequences for all life on the planet.”
If Hansen is being an alarmist, he’s not alone.
Rajendra Pachauri, lead scientist of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late…What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future.”
Which is why it’s a pretty awful, though inevitable, time for the lobbyists to gum up the works. Though that is exactly what they are expected to do.
Frank O’Donnell, president, Clean Air Watch: “A lot of people are on a gravy train who won’t want it to go away…”
Lavelle: “No group exemplifies the sophistication of the current debate more than the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity — a new lobbying organization unveiled just weeks before the vote last June on the Warner-Lieberman bill [was rejected]. Representing 48 mining firms, coal-hauling railroads and coal-burning power companies, ACCCE spent $10.5 million lobbying Capitol Hill on climate in 2008 — more than any other organization solely dedicated to the issue…The big effort is not surprising, since electricity is the largest single source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and the most carbon-intensive fuel, coal, provides half the nation’s power. But ACCCE’s position is that it supports a mandatory federal program to curb the emissions its own members produce — as long as the policy meets ACCCE’s set of principles for keeping electricity affordable, domestically produced, and reliable. And that means encouraging, in ACCCE’s words, ‘robust utilization of coal.’”
Also indicative of the complexity of climate change legislation is the attitude of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), which favors climate legislation and includes General Electric (GE), the biggest U.S. manufacturer of wind turbines, among its members.
Jeff Immelt, CEO, GE: “I didn’t come to this as an environmentalist, I come to it as an industrialist…I’m a capitalist, plain and simple.”
NASA’s Hansen sees the carbon tax as a way around the lobbyists, the special interests, the schemes that will produce “non-productive millionaires, all at public expense…” Curiously, conservatives such as Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, as well as the environmental group Friends of the Earth, agree with Hansen.
This strange alliance raises the question of what brings them together: Do they all advocate a carbon tax because it is the best approach and they are the smartest guys in the argument? Or do some advocate the best approach because they are idealistic and others because they are cynical enough to use the others' idealism to make the perfect the enemy of the good?
click for the full Stoft presentation
Lavelle: “But the political hurdles to climate legislation — in whatever form — are formidable. In the Senate, climate action advocates picked up only three additional likely votes in November: Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico. The four other new Democratic senators replaced Republicans who supported Warner-Lieberman; the same would be true of Minnesota’s Al Franken if he wins his recount battle. So if a bill similar to Warner-Lieberman [weaker in emissions reductions than the President seeks] were before the Senate today, reaching a filibuster-proof 60 votes would be daunting.”
The certainty with which President Obama, Senators Reid, Bingaman and Boxer, and Congresspeople Pelosi, Waxman and Markey have most recently affirmed their commitment to the President’s emissions cut goals and to cap-and-trade makes it hard to imagine a shift to a carbon tax or lesser-known alternatives.
But the devil will most certainly be in the details – and that is where the lobbyists will be as well.
President Obama is for cap-and-trade. From LCVheatison via YouTube.
The Climate Change Lobby Explosion; Will Thousands of Lobbyists Imperil Action on Global Warming?
Marianne Lavelle (w/David Donald and Matthew Lewis), February 24, 2009 (Center for Public Integrity)
Carbon as a Commodity; Can a $2 Trillion “Cap and Trade” Market Fight Climate Change?
Marianne Lavelle, February 24, 2009 (Center for Public Integrity)
Why the Obama Climate Change Plan Won’t Work; Political Support for Cap & Trade Will Not Overcome Its Practical Shortcomings
Jeff Ruch, February 23, 2009 (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)
The Cap and Trade Success Story
12 February 2007 (Environmental Defense Fund)
President Barack Obama; Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif); Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev); House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif); Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif); Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM); Bart Chilton, member, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC); Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER); Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, co-authors, Keeping Our Eyes on the Wrong Ball; Marianne Lavelle, staff writer, Center for Public Integrity
The U.S. will, under President Obama, join the international effort to fight global climate change by creating a cap-and-trade system to reduce its GhGs. Big money is gathering to influence the rules by which the U.S. will play.
The Big Board of world emissions trading. (from Thomson Reuters Carbopn Market Community - click to enlarge)
- Speaker Pelosi has said she intends to deal with climate change legislation by December 2009. Senator Reid says he will bring climate change legislation by the end of the summer.
- The Obama adminstration’s goals are to put the U.S. on track for a 20% reduction in GhGs from 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050.
- The SO2 cap-and-trade system began in 1990 and acid rain emissions were nearly halved by 2002.
- 2003: Almost no U.S. lobbyists working on cap-and-trade legislation in Washington, D.C.
- 2008: 130 registered lobbyists working on climate change legislation and 20 more dedicated entirely to cap-and-trade.
- Revenues from the cap-and-trade system auction of credits are expected to go into New Energy and Energy Efficiency development and to compensate those on whom an unfair portion of the burden of the transition will fall.
- The lobbying action is on Capitol Hill.
- The EU ETS trades around the world but is mandatory for the 27 member nations.
A crude estimate of worst-case fears. (click to enlarge)
- 770 companies and interest groups hired ~2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change in the past year. They spent $90+ million. They represented 150+ businesses and interests, 70% in electricity, coal, and oil firms and the heavy industries (auto, cement, and steel).
- 9 environmental groups are actively lobbying. Pro cap-and-trade: Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Pew Center on Global Climate Change
- Prominent climate change lobbyists: former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Ms), former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Livingston (R-La), Drew Maloney, former top aide to then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tx), Andrew Athy, former counsel to former House Energy and Commerce Committee chair John Dingell (D-Mich), Jack Quinn, White House lawyer to President Clinton, Wayne Berman, assistant commerce secretary under President George H.W. Bush.
Big name players against climate action: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers.
- Big name for climate action: U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), (incl General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Alcoa, and DuPont)
- Wall Street banks: Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase
- Waxman and Boxer, whose committees will drive House and Senate legislation, have endorsed legislation along the lines proposed by the President.
- The effectiveness of the market for acid rain emissions inclines cap-and-trade boosters to believe such a market-based system will work against GhGs.
- Williams and Zabel are EPA attorneys with experience in cap-and-trade and other forms of emission trading.
- Williams and Zabel say the carbon fee system is analogous to the Montreal Protocol program that charged a fee for ozone-depleting CFC-emissions.
- Williams and Zabel say cap-and-trade problems include (1) fraudulent offsets, (2) rationing, manipulation and price volatility, (3) complex bureaucracy, unenforceability and inertia, and (4) over allocation of credits.
- Elements of a well-designed cap-and-trade system (from EDF): (1) A mandatory emissions cap limiting total emissions and providing a metric of progress and credit value; (2) A fixed number of credits for each emitter; (3) Banking and trading of credits; (4) Clear performance criteria, transparency and regular supervision of performance; (5) Flexibility in choice of how to meet caps.
Pro tax, Anti cap-and-trade. From jeffrotull via YouTube
- Bart Chilton, member, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC): “It’s the most important thing we have never done…I can see carbon trading being a $2 trillion market. The largest commodity market in the world.”
- Williams and Zabel: “Other Critical Measures that would be Needed to Complement Carbon Fees…1. Ban on new Coal Fired Power Plants without Safe and Permanent Sequestration…2. Energy Efficiency Standards…3. Carbon-Fee-Equivalent Tariffs on imported goods from countries without similar carbon fees…4. Job Training to help people who are transitioning…5. DC Backbone and Smart Grid…6. Forestry and Agricultural Practices that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions…7. White Roofs…8. Clean Energy Research & Development…9. Subsidies to Encourage New Industries to move to communities experiencing economic dislocation because of the transition…”
- Senator Boxer: “We want to get a bill out there that is straightforward, that doesn’t have so much weight that it sinks…”