A few decades ago it would have been unheard of to see a major environmental group working hand-in-hand with a major polluter on an advertising campaign. Times have changed.
The Environmental Defense Action Fund, the politically active branch of the Environmental Defense Fund group, is working with Duke Energy and Exelon Corp. to promote the idea that a "smart cap" on carbon dioxide emissions will help develop U.S. energy industries that produce electricity without contributing to global warming.
The three are all part of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which matches major U.S. industries with environmental groups in an effort to support Congressional action to combat global warming. (Environmental Defense Fund is a co-founder, with the World Resources Institute.)
Here are the ads:
Exelon is a big U.S. utility that draws heavily on nuclear power, but its power plant portfolio includes several fossil fuel plants burning natural gas (14.8%), oil (9.5%) and coal (3.3%).
Duke Energy, on the other hand, has a portfolio of power plants that is heavily reliant on coal (42.5%) and natural gas (32.4%). Duke Energy also spent $2.8 million in 2007 lobbying against a cap on carbon.
Recently, 60 Minutes examined the clean coal issue, with interesting interviews with both Duke Energy's CEO Jim Rogers and NASA's climate scientist James Hansen. Each agrees that coal cannot continue releasing so much carbon dioxide, because it is fueling global warming. But while Rogers says it will be 2050 before the coal industry has stripped the carbon from its business, Hansen says that will be too late for the planet.
Ok, but what is a smart cap?
The answer from the asmartcap.org site is vague: "A cap is a national limit placed on carbon pollution. A smart cap is one that makes significant cuts in pollution while allowing a smooth transition to clean energy, ensuring that costs are kept low for consumers." (Cap and trade means that credits for pollution can be bought and sold in a new regulated market, so that big polluters can buy credits from those who reduce their pollution below defined levels.)
The U.S. Climate Action Partnership is advocating for a policy (pdf) that supports greenhouse gas reduction goals via a cap-and-trade regulation that would reduce the risk of damaging climate change, according to scientific recommendations. That means a 60-80% reduction in pollution by 2050.
That's about the right target, though there's plenty of wriggle room for individual companies to oppose action in Congress based on specifics. House Democrats are coming to agreement on a bill that would require a 17% reduction in emissions by 2020, and that 15% of U.S. energy come from renewable sources by 2020. Republicans oppose the bill.
How Congress constructs the cap-and-trade system will say a lot about how well it works, and how much it costs average Americans. Environmentalists are fighting to see all pollution credits auctioned, for instance, so there is no subsidy for ongoing pollution. For consumers, the big test, though, will be this: What does Congress do with the money generated by this new market for carbon? Our Green Conservative examined this issue, explaining the difference between two different approaches: cap-and-invest (in renewable energy research and development) or cap-and-dividend (which would hand proceeds to consumers to offset rising energy bills).
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