Debate over the relative merits of a carbon tax versus this bill's cap-and-trade model has mostly given way to concerns about whether the legislation, sponsored by representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), lines the pockets of polluters with little to show for it. The most it would cut carbon emissions by 2020 is 17 percent below 1990 levels, nowhere near the 25 to 40 percent reduction sought by scientists and international climate negotiators. The Sierra Club has withheld its endorsement in hopes of improving the bill before a final vote—it wants to prevent polluters from receiving tradable emissions permits for free, preserve the EPA’s authority to independently regulate carbon, and better fund energy efficiency and clean energy—but Fahn and other environmentalists are skeptical that lawmakers will listen. “From my perspective,” he says, “the prospects of strengthening it to where we’d want to support the ultimate version are growing slim.”Mother Jones has some good coverage of the fight brewing over Waxman-Markey, including a checklist of what the bill will actually accomplish:
Cap and TradeKevin Drum calls this fight an example of "the circular firing squad," but he's wrong. It comes down to this: if the bill will make it harder to pass real carbon legislation later, then we shouldn't pass it; if it will make it easier, we should. Or, as Harkinson puts it:
Ambitiously caps emissions at 68 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 by creating a market in tradable emissions permits
By 2020, the cap will have cut emissions by only 4 percent
Only 15 percent of the tradable emissions permits will be auctioned off by the government; the bill hands out another 50 percent of the permits to the fossil fuel industry for free.
Given that almost all environmental groups agree that Waxman-Markey is far from ideal, the ultimate question is whether passing an imperfect bill now is better than holding out for a better one later. Those who advocate for an incremental approach point out that the US needs to bring something to the table in the next round of international climate talks in Copenhagen this December. On the other hand, Pica argues that improving massive bills like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act took decades, “and by that time we will have carbon-loaded the atmosphere to such a degree that it may not be worth improving anymore.”