Archive for June, 2008

A Look at What’s Happening in US Climate Policy…

Post-Lieberman Warner: How We Got Here and What It Really Means For Us

Local and global devastation and an authentic national outcry to tackle the climate crisis has created a defining moment in climate legislation – a moment characterized by a climate bill frenzy that’s seated corporate lobbyists, traditional enviros, Wall Street economists, lefts, rights, labor unions and presidential candidates at the same table. Since 2003, with wider acceptance of the crisis of global warming, the political palette has gradually and strongly shifted to the taste for climate change policy. On the menu in June was the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, a compromise piece of arguably the most viable climate protection legislation to come before congress thus far, gaining more support than any climate bill before it. For a piece of legislation lauded as the future of US climate policy, the bill fell painfully short of an effective policy, paying familiar lip service to inadequate protection of our communities from climate change impacts while making unjust concessions to industries that would leave our air as unbearable as our energy bills.

Lieberman-Warner failed to pass in the Senate earlier this month, but it has still undoubtedly set the stage for the next round of national climate policy discussions that will grace congressional chambers in the immediate future. The death of Lieberman-Warner was not so much a failure (or success) of the legislative process as it was a mechanism that has catapulted US climate policy into a new arena, where our communities now have another opportunity to engage in the fight for a better policy. This is why it is so important to have knowledge of the history, architecture and pitfalls of the legislative process to effectively strategize for the next battle in climate policy. This is a crash course on what’s been going on in climate policy in the recent past, and what this means for the future of our communities.

The Lieberman-Warner bill was the result of 5 plus years characterized by a history of bi-partisan bill-breeding in the Senate, which began in ’03 with a pioneer bi-partisan bill proposal – the first version of the McCain Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act. Since then, with competing bills, new proposals, shifting sponsors and ongoing amendments, the process to get consensus on one major bill (Lieberman-Warner) became a trial and error showdown of legislative survival of the fittest. Early 2007 witnessed the height of the climate bill frenzy as Congress sifted through some dozen or so potential bills for debate in an all-star tournament of Senator tag-teams fighting it out to build enough support for their pet bill to pass subcommittee, and to come out on top of the global warming hype.

Having already failed twice in 2003 and 2005, Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain introduced the third version of the Climate Stewardship Act in January of 2007. But by July of 2007, as support for the bill dwindled, Senator Lieberman finally changed his approach and switched right-wing dancing partners, announcing his intention to craft a new bill with Senator John Warner. News of the proposal sparked growing support as elements of the bill circulated until the Senators formally introduced their new bill, entitled America’s Climate Security Act (S.2191), in October. Thereafter, with the support of Senator Boxer and other noteworthy endorsements, Lieberman-Warner became the remaining standing champ of the climate bill debate.

Lieberman-Warner cleared two major hurdles in the Congressional process, by passing subcommittee (Senate Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection) in October, and then made its way through committee (Senate Environment and Public Works Committee) in early December. But even with that, the bill and its supporters could not muster the 60 votes needed to make it off the Senate floor, even with the significant mark-up it received in the substitute amendment done by Senator Boxer in May. The bill finally entered debate on the Senate floor in early June, and during a week of messy, tense discussions and negotiating maneuvers, the Democratic leadership moved for cloture – a vote that, if passed, would have ended debate and moved the bill to a full vote, thereby putting an end to Republican filibustering and opening the floor to amendments on the bill. However, the motion for cloture failed, gaining only 48 of the required 60 votes. As a result, Lieberman-Warner was pulled from the floor, ending its legislative life, at least until new proposals are brought up in the next Congressional session. Although Lieberman-Warner failed to become law in this session of congress, it has certainly boosted the interest and awareness of the climate policy debate. The struggle now is no longer a matter of votes, but rather a matter of making sure that a well-informed, well-debated foundation for climate justice is in place for what comes next.

If we have learned anything at all from the process of sifting through the platter of climate bills debated over the past few years it is that the chefs on Capitol Hill have little taste for variation. Despite heavy criticism and existing arguments for other market-based approaches, heretofore cap & trade legislation has been the backbone of all climate policy debates thus far, including Lieberman-Warner. While cap & trade legislation holds its own general pitfalls[i], as an emissions reduction scheme, the trading system crafted by Lieberman-Warner’s architects itself has drawn harsh criticism from an array of opponents. Simply put, the bill is weak, and its implications are unjust. The most common, and most compelling, opposition to the bill points out how – even in its improved, amended version – the bill settles for weak emissions reductions targets, allows unprecedented concessions to the coal industry and, as emphasized by many justice-based groups, places the impacts of higher energy costs on the poor and communities of color – those lease able to afford them.

But perhaps the most fundamental problem with the Lieberman-Warner bill is that its targets for cutting carbon emissions are far too low. Science[ii] tells us globally we need to cut emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Lieberman-Warner regulates its emitters under a target of 71% below 2005 levels by 2050, or only 63% below 1990 levels. According to analysis by the EPA, if you include all other sources of carbon emissions, Lieberman-Warner will ultimately cut overall US emissions to only 25% below 1990 levels.[iii] Even more problematic, the amended version leaves room for greater emissions with the inclusion of an emergency offramp designed to keep the price of credits from getting too high – automatically putting even more credits into the market (increasing the emissions cap even higher) if the price exceeds a certain range. These weak regulations on emissions produced a bill with no backbone and set a risky stage for the future, making it even less likely polluters will ultimately make reduction targets over the bill’s 40 year lifetime. Alternately, strong targets now would push investment to develop and implement major, innovative technologies that will actually make a difference.

Another major threat of Lieberman-Warner is how it would allocate its pollution credits. Lieberman-Warner unabashedly gives much of the permits away for free, and to corporate polluters, no less. Instead of selling all of its credits to these polluters through an auction[iv], the bill would give away some $600 billion worth of credits over its lifetime. As a study by Friends of the Earth[v] clearly underlines, the heaviest polluters – namely the coal industry – gets close to half of those permits. This would give the biggest threat to our planet the best advantage.

From the beginning, environmental justice groups have been dissatisfied with Lieberman-Warner. When Senator Boxer announced her substitute amendment in May, one of the most touted provisions, made in response to growing criticism of the original bill by community activists, was an increase in the amount of assistance the bill would give to low-income communities who would hurt most from higher energy costs and job transitions to renewable energies. But in reality, the amendment was only a small improvement and the bill continued to lack sufficient substance to address community needs. This is because, generally, the bill uses revenues from auction profits and filters the money ineffectively through different entities that are to fund the programs that assist low-income consumers.

More fundamentally, Lieberman-Warner lacks accountability to communities and denies them a strong voice in the process. The bill was negotiated and developed largely behind closed doors, under a severely rushed time frame. The bill simply lacked any provisions for community input or oversight. We are now given a new window of opportunity to inject our voices in the debate that will shape future legislation. With the failure of Lieberman-Warner, there is no expectation to pass a bill in Senate this year. But conversations will not stop as the frenzy continues.

Better bills are being proposed. In fact, amongst a handful of proposals circulating in the House right now, Congressman Edward Markey has announced one of the most comprehensive bills to date. Clearly building off of criticism from past bill debates, Markey’s “Investing in Climate Action and Protection Act,” or iCAP, boasts better targets – 85% by 2050 – and essentially 100% auction of its credits – starting at 94% of total allowances in 2012 and reaching 100% in 2020. Not to mention, iCAP returns over half of auction proceeds to low- and middle-income households through rebates and tax credits, investing the remaining half in programs including clean energy tech, energy efficiency and green jobs training and assistance. Not ideal, but much improved, what Markey’s bill indicates is that there can be a clear movement for future policies that build on the pitfalls Lieberman-Warner presented, but only if we remain vigilant.

As new bills are being crafted and put on the menu for the next round of debates, we need to be sure to put in our orders for what our communities demand.


[i] Resources on general cap & trade legislation:

· The EPA’s website has a collection of information: http://www.epa.gov/airmarkt/resource/cap-trade-resource.html

· Or, for a comprehensive, introductory powerpoint presentation by Dr. Holmes Hummel, explaining the mechanics of cap & trade policy: http://www.thunks.net/Cap-and-Trade.htm

[ii] IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, the science behind 80 by 2050 at: http://www.ipcc.ch/

[iii] EPA Analysis of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 http://epa.gov/climatechange/downloads/s2191_EPA_Analysis.pdf

[iv] Read Jim Barrett’s issue brief The True Cost of Free Pollution Permits for further reading on the arguments for auctioning permits instead of giving them away to polluters for free.

[v] Windfalls in Lieberman Warner Global Warming Bill by Friends of the Earth. Read the analysis here: http://www.foe.org/pdf/Lieberman_Warner_2-1_Update.pdf.

the “i” word [idealist]

Hey there, my name is Rebecca, and I’m a summer intern at the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative. This is a really exciting time to be involved with this movement! The national and international “green scene” is approaching a critical period in time: Governments, corporations, and the public are finally looking at themselves and asking, “How can we fix this mess?” International Indigenous Rights movements are building up steam, along with Human Rights movements, and, especially in the United States, discussions of race and gender have treaded waters that they hadn’t even dipped a toe in for quite some time. The rhetoric of “Change we can believe in” has moved beyond presidential campaigns into people’s personal lives. This is certainly true in the United States where most people are fed up with a war that has gone on for too long. We are financially crippled by our dependence on fossil fuels and the structures of oppression that lead to disparities and inequalities between particular groups in the U.S. are stubbornly persistent.

I feel that all of these factors can help to stimulate the environmental justice and climate justice movement. As humans, no matter how removed we might feel from the environment, we are surely still dependent on it. So if we are to survive, we must conserve it. There are vast amounts of deep-seated power structures in all parts of the world, but in order to create a just, fair, and vibrant earth, an immeasurable amount of people must be invested in the common vision of dismantling these structures. This challenge is what inspires many people involved in the social justice movement to do what they do.

Interestingly enough, it is very possible for both of these enormous issues to be combated simultaneously, which is what environmental justice and climate justice is all about. (More on this idea next post!)

i heard that.

Black bloggers fight to make voices heard

Source: SF Chronicle

With its power-to-the-individual approach, the new media world promises anyone with a laptop the possibility of a publishing empire. But, as some black bloggers are finding out, the new media world is a lot like the old one: racially segregated, with many prominent black voices still fighting to be heard.

Some bloggers felt insulted this month when the Democratic National Committee selected 55 state-oriented blogs to cover its convention in Denver; critics said few featured African American voices. The DNC said race wasn’t considered in its selection from 400 applicants. Officials were more interested in the sites’ audience size and how much chatter about local issues appeared on them. The DNC answered critics Thursday by adding several sites led by African Americans to its general blogger pool.

But some critics say the DNC situation is indicative of a larger media divide. It’s a division in which stories like the racially motivated beating in Jena, La., last year lingered for months on black blogs and talk radio before the mainstream press picked up the issue.

That coverage gap is partly what inspired Gina McCauley to help organize the first Blogging While Brown conference this summer in Atlanta. The most popular online community conferences – like the Netroots Nation confab that grew out of the Daily Kos blog – tend to be predominantly white gatherings.

“The progressive blogosphere is segregated,” said McCauley, whose What About Our Daughters blog was accepted to the DNC’s blogger pool. Essence magazine named McCauley one of its 25 most influential people last year alongside Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and filmmaker Tyler Perry. “Black bloggers link to other black bloggers, and progressive white bloggers link to other white progressive bloggers,” she said.

“I don’t know why that is,” said Gina Cooper, executive director of the Netroots Nation conference. After last year’s second annual convention, she expressed her frustration about the lack of diversity. Netroots Nation is offering scholarships this year, and Cooper is seeking other ways to make the gathering inclusive.

Black TV News Channel

Obama’s presidential campaign might have raised the visibility of black voices and stories in the mainstream media, but it has not, according to some, quenched the thirst for them.

That’s why former Oklahoma GOP Rep. J.C. Watts – a onetime CNN commentator – is planning to start a 24-hour cable news network devoted to African American issues and perspectives. Comcast plans to add the Black Television News Channel to its cable packages in cities with large African American populations, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Washington and Atlanta, sometime in mid-2009.

“The mainstream press by and large likes to see African Americans through a certain prism, and it is a small and cordoned-off prism,” Watts said. “Most institutions are like that. They see the African American community as an afterthought. But we are much more than drugs and crime.”

While there are many Spanish-language entertainment offerings and outlets for Spanish-language news on TV, Watts feels that African Americans are an underserved market, particularly for news. Black Entertainment Television (BET), the largest cable network aimed at an African American audience, canceled its nightly news program three years ago.

Watts envisions 14 hours each day of original news and talk programming on his network. So what type of stories would BTNC pursue? Watts said he went to a gathering of 125 prominent African American equity fund managers a few years ago, people who invested billions of dollars internationally. He envisioned them not only as potential investors in his network, but as individuals whose stories rarely get told in the mainstream press.

“We are an economic story, a political story and, yes, when we need to be, a story about drugs and crime,” Watts said. He declined to say how much he would need to raise to fund the network.

Should Watts succeed, he’d be one of only a few black media heads in the country.

Low media representation

While black people comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, they own no daily newspapers and only 0.6 percent of full-power television stations and 3 percent of the radio stations. Only 5 percent of reporters at U.S. daily newspapers were African American in 2007, and the number of black-owned newspapers is dropping, as is their combined circulation.

Some of the African American reporters who remain in the ever-shrinking print newsrooms were miffed last week when former Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro responded to a question about sexism in the presidential campaign by pointing to black journalists and their perceived bias in favor of Obama.

“You know all the surrogates that they had out there from the black journalists,” Ferraro told Fox News. “Have you read (African American New York Times columnist) Bob Herbert recently in the past six months? There wasn’t one column that had anything decent to say about Hillary.” The same Herbert wrote a column about the “the dark persistence of misogyny in America” in January.

Barbara Ciara, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said: “African American journalists find themselves fighting for a seat at the table with every major presidential election, but now comes the taint of bigotry with the recent remarks of Geraldine Ferraro, who suggested black journalists were no more than a mouthpiece for the Obama campaign because we share the same skin tone. Has she forgotten that Obama is half white?”

Some African Americans see an easier chance to have their voices heard in the online world, and black voices there are growing not only in number but in influence. Last September, Wayne Hicks’ Electronic Village blog ranked 75 black blogs on his monthly list; now he charts more than 1,250.

Hicks, who heads a nonprofit foundation, also is a member of AfroSpear, a collective of 140 blogs that focus on the black experience and gather momentum behind social justice issues like the racially charged incident involving a beating in Jena, La. Then there’s San Francisco’s ColorofChange.org, which envisions itself as the “black MoveOn.” It has grown from 100,000 members to 417,000 over the past year, many of whom joined the organization after it publicized the Jena incident and pressured the Congressional Black Caucus to oppose Fox News’ plans to host a presidential debate.

Growth in perspectives

“I’d say that the new black voices are much more organic than those of the past. They don’t need to emanate from the pulpit in order to be heard, or to inform, or to galvanize people from across the nation,” said Avis Jones-DeWeever, director of the National Council of Negro Women’s Research, Public Policy and Information Center. “These voices epitomize the next evolution of black political activism.”

There’s a difference in the types of stories that black and mainstream media cover, McCauley said. While some in the mainstream might analyze the influence of large media corporations on the Internet, black bloggers might focus on shows produced by Viacom-owned TV networks like VH1’s “Flavor of Love” and question the cartoonish depiction of African Americans.

And when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton mentioned Robert F. Kennedy’s June 1968 assassination while defending her decision to continue her presidential campaign, “a lot of the mainstream media covered it as a statement unto itself,” said Hicks. “But in the black community it was part of a pattern.” He, like others, noted that Clinton made her statement four days after the Roswell (Ga.) Beacon put a photo of Obama on its front page with the crosshairs of a rifle scope over him, and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made a joke about somebody aiming a gun at Obama during a speech to the National Rifle Association.

“The mainstream media had a reason to look at black voices in the media because of the Obama campaign,” Hicks said. “But these voices have always been out there.”

E-mail Joe Garofoli at jgarofoli@sfchronicle.com.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/05/31/MN1T110MF0.DTL

This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Published on: May 31, 2008
Written by: Joe Garofoli