Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts were expected to unveil legislation last week that would reduce the pollution counts connected to global warming and increase the nation's reliance on cleaner energies. Over in the House, lawmakers have already given approval to their own version, the American Clean Energy and Security Act — a controversial proposal also known as the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill and more generally as "cap-and-trade." The White House argues that the legislation would create millions of green jobs and move the nation toward developing more fuel-efficient vehicles and using renewable sources like wind, solar, ethanol, hydroelectricity, nuclear and other alternative fuels. At the same time, that would mean moving the nation away from Louisiana staples such as oil and gas, as well as other fossil fuels such as coal.
Maybe that's why every member of Louisiana's House delegation voted against the proposal — including lone Democrat Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville. While some changes are expected in the Senate version, the end result should be the same, as President Barack Obama's cornerstone legislation still has a long way to go to gain the support of Louisiana's two senators.
Here's how the core concept of the bill would work: the act would create a market-based cap-and-trade system under which industries and utilities would buy carbon "allowances" from the federal government. Businesses and utilities that reduce their carbon output below the cap would then be able to sell their extra allowances to businesses that exceed the cap. The federal government would also distribute to each state a share of the proceeds from the sale of the allowances for the states to use for wildlife and natural resource protection and also for domestic adaptation purposes, like wetlands restoration, to reverse the effects of climate change. In fact, Melancon was successful in including an amendment to the House bill that would protect Louisiana's share of wetlands restoration funding from cuts indirectly caused by hurricane disaster assistance.
Despite that boost for Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, said in a prepared statement earlier this year that it's unlikely she would support cap-and-trade. Specifically, she said the House-passed cap-and-trade bill "disproportionately penalizes the oil and gas industry and would ultimately result in less domestic energy production at a time when our nation should be producing more." Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, is in the same boat. He said instead of increasing energy production, Obama has presented a bill that's similar to one that failed in the 1970s. "Everyone agrees that we need to do more to create a cleaner and greener world for our children," Vitter said. "But this proposed cap-and-trade policy to reduce emissions creates regulations so severe that the burden on medium-sized and small business will be stifling and will overflow to consumers — by some estimates raising costs to the average family by more than $1,000 a year and costing us thousands of jobs."
Of course, not everyone is opposed to the concept. Local community leaders and activists around Louisiana have been rallying behind the legislation for months. Jonathan Henderson, a spokesperson for 1Sky and the Gulf Restoration Network, both local advocacy groups, said the clean-energy bill is the best chance for moving Louisiana to a greener economy and protecting its coastal communities from sea-level rise. Katherine Trotter, a research analyst for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, added that the Bayou State has 17 oil refineries that contribute to global warming on a daily basis. "This energy bill includes a provision to reduce global warming emissions from industry sources, including oil companies," she said. "We have a real problem and this bill will help solve it." — Jeremy Alford