Saturday, June 27, 2009

Climate Bill Passes the House

Yesterday the House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey bill, its version of cap-and-trade legislation to fight climate change. There are good reasons for both supporting and opposing it. The bill will not reduce carbon emissions far enough to prevent catastrophic climate change, and contains more industry handouts than I would like. That said, its passage marks a step forward, especially if it makes it through the Senate – better to have an inadequate bill than no bill, in my opinion.

The heart of the bill is a "cap" that would lower greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 83 percent below those levels by 2050. It would enforce the cap by requiring many sources of such pollution, including power plants, factories and oil refineries, to amass buyable, sellable credits equal to their emissions.

The bill's co-sponsors, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Markey, rejected Obama's proposal to auction all emission allowances and use most of the revenues for tax cuts. Instead the measure would give away 85 percent of the annual emission allowances to consumers, coal-intensive manufacturers and utilities, as well as a variety of clean-energy interests, such as biofuel developers and superconductor makers. Most of those free allowances would be phased out in 10 to 20 years.

That set off a lobbying feeding frenzy, with 880 business and interest groups registered to lobby on the bill.

Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) won concessions giving the Agriculture Department, instead of the Environmental Protection Agency, the authority to run a program that would give offsets to farmers who use tilling techniques that would keep carbon dioxide trapped in the soil.
You can find out how your representative voted here. The bill passed by a tight margin, 219-212.

On the same day, we got a reminder that high carbon levels cause more harm than a simple temperature increase. High carbon levels have been linked with excessive ear bone growth in fish.
A brief paper published in the June 26 issue of the journal Science describes experiments in which fish that were exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide experienced abnormally large growth in their otoliths, or ear bones. Otoliths serve a vital function in fish by helping them sense orientation and acceleration.

The researchers had hypothesized that otoliths in young white seabass growing in waters with elevated carbon dioxide would grow more slowly than a comparable group growing in seawater with normal CO2 levels. They were surprised to discover the reverse, finding "significantly larger" otoliths in fish developing in high-CO2 water.
So far it is not known what effects this might have on fish.