Bush signs energy bill--political momentum on climate builds

Just a few hours ago, President Bush signed into law an energy bill that requires more efficient cars and trucks, more and better renewable fuels, more efficient light bulbs, and more efficient appliances. As everyone is quick to acknowledge, the bill could have been better (e.g. see our own press release) if it had included a renewable electricity standard and tax incentives for renewables and energy efficiency. But make no mistake about it--this bill is a big deal.

We (and by we I really mean our new crack analyst Brian Siu) did the number crunching on the global warming pollution reductions from the energy bill. The bottom line is that even under conservative assumptions, the bill will provide 13 to 19 percent of the cumulative 2010-2030 reductions that would be required under the Lieberman-Warner climate bill. The range is dependent on the rigor of implementation. The Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill (S.2191) was approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee on December 5 and would reduce US emissions by around 65 percent from 2005 emissions by 2050.

How much got left on the cutting room floor when then renewable electric standard and tax package got axed? 3 to 4 percent. Each measure would have reduced emissions cumulative 2010-2030 emissions by 1.6 to 2 percent of S.2191 requirements.

Here's how the 13-19 percent breaks down among the major provisions of the energy bill:

Title Policy Percent of S. 2191 2010-2030 Cumulative Reductions in 2030
Title I CAFE 6.1-7.7%
Title I Medium & Heavy Duty Vehicles 0.8-1%
Title II RFS 2.4-3%
Title III Appliances and lighting 3-3.7%
Title IV Building and Industrial Program 0.3-3.5%
Total   12.6-18.9%

Now I'm an optimist. I don't believe that misinformed whining motivates action, but blind optimism is no basis for action either. In my last post, I wrote about how important the greenhouse gas standards and environmental safeguards are to the large new renewable fuel standard, and I also wrote about how important follow up will be to make sure this law is implemented in the best possible way. We also need to follow up politically. We need to thank the heroes and spank the villains on Capitol Hill. The editorial board at the New York Times gets a good start with a tip of the hat to Dingell and a wag of the finger for Landrieu. Other heroes include in the House Pelosi, Hoyer, Markey, the Udalls, Platts, Harman, and Van Hollen and in the Senate Reid, Durbin, Boxer, Inouye, Bingaman, Kerry. Specter deserves a wag of the finger.

In the end, the law does good things in and of itself, but perhaps just as importantly the bill is a sign of real movement on climate change. To use the train-leaving-the-station metaphor, the ground swell of public awareness is the crowd waving good-bye from the platform and state actions to date are the locomotive taking the slack out from between the cars. But the energy bill is the first sign of actual movement--seeing the platform start to actual slide by the window. The energy bill will not stop global warming or even give the United States any authority to lead on this ultimate environmental challenge, but say it out loud... "Energy bill and Bali and Lieberman and Warner and energy bill and Bali and..."  You can almost feel the tracks and the acceleration in your bones. We can make it happen.