Fiona Harvey Waxman-Markey passes committee – but what’s to come?

Henry Waxman, chairman of the committee and co-sponsor with Ed Markey, said the bill enjoyed “substantial support from industry, labour and environmental groups from across the country”.

This is true, but does not tell the whole story. While many companies have embraced cap-and-trade – Duke Energy, Cisco, DuPont, Caterpillar, among others – the compromises that have been made to get the bill to this stage have also made enemies.

Some of these are broadly Republican in flavour, with the usual suspects in the form of free market thinktanks, anti-tax campaigners, some business coalitions, and of course global warming sceptics. Other groups representing rural America have also been taking a strong stand on the bill as they say it will drive up costs for them and put many farmers out of business.

But the other voices attacking the bill have been from the green side. A coalition led by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth has criticised the bill as a sop to “Big Business”.

“The decision-making process was co-opted by oil and coal lobbyists determined to sustain our addiction to dirty fossil fuels, even as the country stands ready to rebuild our economy and clean up the environment with real clean energy,” the 12 organisations said. “[It’s] the triumph of politics over science and the triumph of industry influence over the public interest.”

But the bill’s supporters say it is the only acceptable political compromise.

“The alternative is not a better bill – it’s no bill,” said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute.

Paul Bledsoe, strategy director of the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, said: “I recognise the frustration of those who feel that the market signal [on the carbon price generated by the bill] is not adequate. But in view of the political circumstances, our view has always been [that the most important thing is] to put in place a system that prices carbon.”

He continued: “Our view is that the price will rise naturally over time.”

He also noted the $10 floor on carbon incorporated into the bill.

Rep Markey highlighted the international context: many people believe that unless the US can go to the climate change talks in Copenhagen in December with a cap-and-trade bill in place, it will be unable to reach an agreement. He said: “President Obama has made it clear that he wants to go to Copenhagen as the leader and not the laggard, which we have been over the last eight years.”

President Obama himself said: “We are now one step closer to delivering on the promise of a new clean energy economy that will make America less dependent on foreign oil, crack down on polluters, and create millions of new jobs all across America.”

Related story:

Waxman Markey: Key components of the bill (FT Energy Source, 22/05/09)