Lieberman-Warner Bill hits Senate Floor on June 2

For the first time in history, global warming legislation is about to be seriously considered on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, the Lieberman-Warner "Climate Security Act" falls far short of the emissions reductions scientists say we must achieve and gives hundreds of billions of dollars to polluters. This brief memo provides essential information about the bill’s contents and history, as well as contact information for Friends of the Earth’s legislative experts.

Bill falls far short of scientific targets and is "unlikely to reduce emissions at all until year 2025"

Many scientists now say that previous estimates understated the extent of global warming and that industrialized countries such as the United States should phase out global warming pollution altogether by mid-century to avoid catastrophe. According to a recent estimate by former Clinton administration official Joseph Romm, now a fellow at the Center for American Progress, the Lieberman-Warner bill is unlikely to reduce emissions at all until after the year 2025 due to a weakening provision on cost containment inserted into the bill’s final draft and international offsets. An EPA analysis of the bill conducted before Senator Boxer announced a substitute concluded that the bill would only reduce U.S. emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 – a 35 percent reduction below today’s levels. This is nowhere near where scientists say we need to be.

Half a trillion dollars for polluters

Thankfully, giveaways to polluting industries have been reduced in Senator Boxer’s substitute amendment to the bill, but fossil fuel companies can still expect to receive staggering handouts—giveaways in the neighborhood of $500 billion. These polluter giveaways come in the form of free emission permits as well as direct subsidies. Independent experts including the Congressional Budget Office have concluded that such giveaways are likely to result in windfall profits and cause adverse impacts for the broader economy. A better solution would embrace the “polluter pays” principle by auctioning off 100 percent of pollution permits. The revenue generated by a 100 percent auction could help families afford higher energy costs, speed the deployment of clean technologies, and help the U.S. live up to its global responsibility to assist impoverished nations prepare for changes in climate.

Support for Lieberman-Warner is tepid; bill is headed nowhere fast

Last fall, instead of choosing to advance a strong bill, the Democratic leadership placed its bets on the weaker Lieberman-Warner approach. This was a mistake. The better path would have been to embrace the principles advocated by the leading Democratic presidential candidates: polluters must pay and targets must be in step with scientific analysis.

Friends of the Earth and our political affiliate, Friends of the Earth Action, has led environmental opposition to the bill. We responded to the bill's weak targets and big polluter giveaways with a "Fix or Ditch" campaign that mobilized activists and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for print, online and TV ads highlighting these flaws. Our concerns were heard on Capitol Hill and have been echoed by other national organizations, notably Greenpeace and CREDO Action (formerly Working Assets). The bill has also encountered substantial criticism from the progressive and environmental Netroots. Since Lieberman-Warner almost certainly will not become law, the debate scheduled to take place next week is really about setting the stage for more consequential action next year.

2008 elections offer hope for change, stronger bills underway in House

After the 2008 elections, we are guaranteed to have a president more likely than George Bush to address global warming seriously. Senator Obama in particular has put forward a proposal with strong pollution reduction targets and a 100 percent pollution permit auction. In addition, it appears that the election will send four or more new pro-environment senators to Washington, fundamentally reshaping the political dynamic and paving the way for a stronger bill to move forward in the Senate. Two, maybe three, stronger bills are already underway in the house. Just this week, Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), who chairs the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, announced the Investing in Climate Action and Protection Act. Markey’s proposal would do much more than Lieberman-Warner to reduce emissions. Like Sen. Obama, he also supports a speedy implementation of a 100 percent auction system of pollution permits.

Media contacts for Lieberman-Warner floor debate

Friends of the Earth staff will be working to strengthen various pieces of the Lieberman-Warner bill during debate on the Senate floor. Please feel free to call on the following experts if you would like more information:

Brent Blackwelder, Friends of the Earth President – general strategy, electoral politics
Office: 202.222.0727

Elizabeth Bast – international funding and clean technology transfer
Office: 202.222.0719 Cell: 202.641.7203

Josh Hilgart – grassroots activism and media campaign
Office: 202.222.0742 Cell: 202.425.0590

Shawnee Hoover – general legislative strategy, low-income protections
Office: 202.222.0728 Cell: 202.674.0922

Kate Horner – international forests offsets
Office: 202.222.0716 Cell: 360.319.9444

Kate McMahon – permit auctions and giveaways to polluters
Office: 202.222.0715 Cell: 978.758.9584

Colin Peppard – strategies on transportation
Office: 202.222.0747 Cell: 202.841.4491

Erich Pica – economic implications, cost containment, domestic offsets
Office: 202.222.0739 Cell: 240.432.3470

Up-to-date Resources