waxman-and-markeyCometh the hour, the old phrase goes, cometh the man. Barack Obama is staking much of his high credibility by calling for the House to pass the landmark US Climate bill, that may come before the House this afternoon.

Or it may not, depending on the political drama. While Democratic support has been growing, some media are saying they are still short of the votes needed to get the bill through. Others say they have enough.  Democratic leadership will likely wrangle the votes, but the issue has divided the environmental movement.

Speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House yesterday Obama said America must not miss the opportunity to work on climate change whilst creating new “green” energy jobs. He called the measure “a jobs bill” and said the country for far too long has been too reliant on fossil fuels.  To those members of Congress who are undecided, he said: “We’ve been talking about this issue for decades, now is the time to act.”

Obama has been joined by another climate heavyweight, Al Gore, who is said to be “pushing the phones” from Tennesse to win over wavering Democrats.

If passed, the Bill will force electrical producers to make a dramatic shift away from the use of fossil fuels through increased efficiency, greater use of renewable energy, or pay for ways to capture carbon emissions.  The Bill is now running to 1,200 pages and has been described as getting more “complex with each compromise.”

Its main measure is a plan to reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.  This clever bit of spin equals only 4% below 1990 levels.  Science demands a cut in emissions on the order of 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 – so Waxman-Markey is off by a factor of 10.

The bill would create a “cap-and-trade” system, in which polluters would be required to buy credits for all the greenhouse gases they produce.

Republicans  have been arguing for months that the climate legislation amounts to a massive energy tax. The dinosaur sceptics and corporate lackey’s are also out in force. Take Steven Milloy, a bette noir of the environmental movement who runs junkscience.com,  who writes that “whatever you want to call this legislative atrocity, if enacted into law, it will go down in history as the death knell of the American standard of living and way of life. If you hate America, this bill is for you.”

Predictable scaremongering from the high priest of green babble himself, who used to flak for the tobacco industry.

What Milloy forgets to mention that the Democrats have sought to limit the economic impact by making available pollution allowances to utilities and energy-intensive industries, which means that many are now complaining that too many concessions have been made to pass the Bill.

So despite Obama and Gore’s  enthusiasm, a core of environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Public Citizen and Friends of the Earth are now calling for the bill to be “fixed or ditched”.  Friends of the Earth points to the central role that Shell has played in drafting the bill, and clearly states that we can do better.

Many green bloggers also feel the bill will be a defeat, even in victory.

The CLEAN coalition of 130 grass-roots organisations are arguing: “The Waxman-Markey bill falls far short of the policies needed to make the transition from a dirty energy economy to a clean energy economy.”

CLEAN is now calling for:
1.    Dump the cap and trade provisions and carbon capture and sequestration provisions as they currently stand.
2.    Pass a federal Renewable Electricity Standard that mandates at least 25% renewables by 2025.
3.    Pass a federal Energy Efficiency Resource Standards that requires at least a 15% reduction in energy usage by electric utilities by 2020.
4.    Pass separate climate legislation that forces the auction of allowances or imposes a carbon tax on polluters and gives the proceeds by the public (a revenue neutral carbon tax).

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that three-quarters of Americans think the federal government should regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but there would be little worse than getting something fundamentally wrong at this stage.

[Note: Oil Change International has supported efforts to strengthen this bill and opposes this bill in its current form. – Steve]